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Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Shows Off Its Ravel

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
09/17/2014 -  
Claude Debussy: La Mer
Sergei Prokofiev: Concerto for Piano No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé, Symphonic Fragments – La Valse

Boris Berezovsky (Piano)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano (Conductor)

B. Berezovsky

Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) embark on their next Asian tour on October 7 – with their tenth visit to Japan and first to China. During this week and next, the orchestra is performing works it will take on the tour.

Wednesday’s concert included three pillars of the orchestra’s repertory by French composers: Debussy’s La Mer and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé and La Valse. (The OSM, even eleven years after Charles Dutoit’s departure, is still considered a “French” orchestra.) Although Wednesday’s performances were not quite as polished as Dutoit’s, they still provided the requisite thrills and served as good vehicles to show off the orchestra’s strengths.

The evening’s most gripping performance was of an unscheduled composition, Ravel’s La Valse, one of the OSM’s calling cards. Mr. Nagano returned to the stage after Daphnis et Chloé (and after a significant number of patrons had disrespectfully left before the applause had concluded) to announce this rare encore in appreciation of the audience’s support for the orchestra.

Equally satisfying was Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Symphonic Fragments. Although the strings are the stars of this piece, with thrilling glissandos and ethereal sounds from the violas and lower strings, there were lovely moments from the harps; impressive, repeated semi-quavers from the trumpets; lovingly-played solos from concertmaster Andrew Wan; solid work from star flutist Timothy Hutchins and some fine turns from Virginia Spicer on the piccolo.

I don’t know what body of water (if any) Debussy had in mind when he composed La Mer, but my impressions of the performance evoked winter in the English Channel rather than summer in the Mediterranean. Despite velvety playing from the strings (including harps), impressive work from the other sections, and some radiant solos, the overall tone was dry. Warmth, rhythm and unity were in short supply.

The performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 was a bitter disappointment. Boris Berezovsky (who is accompanying the OSM on the tour) began the first movement with warmth, authority and clean articulation, but as it picked up speed these qualities quickly gave way to relentless note banging, slipped notes, muddiness and a lack of expression. He used too much pedal in the first coda and was drowned out by the orchestra in the climax. His style was suitable for the short, swiftly tossed-off Scherzo, but the absence of a unifying line produced a lifeless Intermezzo. The fourth movement, with the dynamic interplay between the piano and orchestra, was static, ragged and soulless. The entire performance lacked the emotional expansiveness which is the hallmark of performances of Romantic works by great Russian orchestras. (Nevertheless, concertmaster Andrew Wan again stood out for his technique, finesse and passion.)

Earl Arthur Love



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