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Pianist Till Fellner; Photo credit: Fran Kaufman
Maestro Kent Nagano and Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
Maestro Kent Nagano; Photo credit: LuceTG
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON December 9th 2016
At age 44, Fellner is at the top of his game as he abuntantly displayed last night. His recent appearances with major orchestras in Europe and North America are further evidence. They include, Berlin, Paris, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Pittsburg and St. Martin in the Fields. In addition, he has kept a demanding international touring schedule of solo and chamber music.
The second half of the concert was a striking contrast. The set-up for Henri Dutilleux’s Symphony No. 2 “Le Double” was such that a group of twelve soloists sat front and centre. The small group included four strings, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, celeste, harpsichord, and timpani. The remaining orchestra filled the stage behind them. The three movement work seemed to me to paint an often disturbing atonal portrait of an industrial world. The positive and the negative energy of the mid- twentieth century world seemed to be juxtaposed with moments of mystery. Gripping solos, often with jarring interval leaps or flourishes of rapid-fire scales were punctuated with staccato, thunderous brass and percussion chords. The orchestra had all the power and precision to hold the audience in the grip of the drama.
Toronto is quite accustomed and often, perhaps, a little jealous of the great musicians coming out of Québec. Such names as Céline Dion, Leonard Cohen, Oscar Peterson, and Arcade Fire come to mind. Pianists such as André Laplante, Marc-André Hamelin, Louis Lortie and most recently Charles Richard-Hamelin are known internationally. These names are just a few among the host of international artists reared in Québec.
Last night at Roy Thomson Hall, Montreal gifted our city another musical gem. The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) brought its best. It came ready to perform great music with flair, subtlety, and powerful drama. The sold-out concert lived up to the audience’s anticipation of hearing what is without doubt and with just a hint of jealousy, an orchestral megastar.
The OSM has a rich and storied history of serving up great music at home in Montreal, on tour, and in its countless superb recordings. It has been led by such musical legends as Zubin Mehta, Franz-Paul Decker, Charles Dutoit, and since 2006, the inexhaustible Kent Nagano. Nagano was on the podium last night and showed why he is one of the most sought-after music directors in the symphonic and operatic worlds. The OSM just recently renewed his contract for another four years.
The programme began with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58. Austrian pianist Till Fellner recorded this work with Nagano and the OSM six years ago, so it was like old friends picking up where they left off. There was a rare synergy between piano and orchestra. The concerto is well known to concert audiences. It was last performed in Toronto in April of this year. Still, there was a freshness to every phrase. From the inviting piano introduction, the beauty of the sound was transcendent. I was struck by the tuning, the balance and the gentleness of the lower strings allowing the piano to sing through. The first movement cadenza cast a spell over me as did the heart-felt piano melody in the second movement. The final movement exuded spontaneity and playfulness.
ORCHESTRE SYMPHONIQUE DE MONTRÉAL brings its best to Toronto!
The final work, Maurice Ravel’s La Valse, lifted the spirits by giving glimpses of the many moods of the Viennese dance. TSO audiences heard Ravel’s take on American jazz two weeks ago with his Concerto in G. Last night’s interpretation was a display of European charm. It was also an opportunity for the orchestra to display all its imaginable colours. With two harps, six percussionists, and a complete complement of woodwinds and brass, there were solos throughout each section. When the entire orchestra played engaging Strauss melody fragments, a smile came over my face.
After a standing ovation and three curtain calls, Jan and I left the hall only to notice on the lobby monitors that Nagano was speaking to the audience. We immediately rushed back to find that he was offering not one but two encores. First came Claude Debussy’s familiar Prélude à L’aprѐs-midi d'un faune and then György Ligeti’s Concert românesc, a showpiece for concert master Andrew Wan with its dazzling Romanian folk-dance solos.
This concert was one to remember. OSM deserves a huge thank you.
With countless seasonal concerts available to Toronto audiences, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is also getting into the spirit of the season. A Jann Arden Christmas on Tuesday, December 13th and Wednesday December 14th and then Handel’s Messiah from December 18th to December 23rd offer opportunities to celebrate.