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Angela Hewitt Lends Hands to Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in Montreal

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
11/09/2022 -  & November 10*, 2022
Ludwig van Beethoven: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 – Triple Concerto in C major for Violin, Cello and Piano, Op. 56
Louise Farrenc: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 32

Angela Hewitt (Piano), Blake Pouliot (Violin), Bryan Cheng (Cello)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Laurence Equilbey (Conductor)

(© Antoine Saito)

« What a waste » was my reaction on learning that Angela Hewitt, in town as a juror for the annual Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) Competition, would perform with the orchestra in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. One of the world’s most accomplished performers of J.S. Bach, she would be playing an accompanying role in this rather light « piano trio with orchestra » rather than a pair of Bach piano concerti, or any solo role for that matter. The remaining solo roles in the Concerto, moreover, were offered to young, recent winners of OSM competitions—Blake Pouliot in 2016 and Bryan Cheng in 2019. (Ms Hewitt won in 1975!)

Nevertheless, Hewitt didn’t disappoint. With her solid command of the keyboard, she made every note one to relish. Even though the violin and cello carry more melodic material, her presence lent gravitas and a sense of occasion to the performance. I was under the impression, however, that Hewitt was struggling at times to communicate with her two compatriots, placed behind her. There seemed to be a better rapport between her and the orchestra. Bryan Cheng, with his « Dubois » Stradivarius cello from 1699, in the first movement played with a light touch and delivered a soft, sweet sound, but could have used more depth. Pouliot displayed an even lighter touch, but with impressive technical mastery of his instrument— the 1729 « Guarneri del Gesù » violin. Their playing was more captivating, however, in their opening heartfelt duet of the Largo movement. Cheng takes his artistry seriously and reminded me of a young Yo‑Yo Ma. Pouliot, on the other hand, seemed to treat the performance as a lark—with his exaggerated facial and bodily expressions, which especially distracted from Hewitt and Cheng while he was not performing.

It is rare in my experience that physical behaviour so dominates (or distracts from) a performance. Guest conductor Laurence Equilbey (founder and Musical Director of the Insula Orchestra) seemed to be glued to the podium like a coiled spring. With her elbows stuck to her sides, she basically conducted hunched over the score as if the performance were taking place on the music stand. As a result, Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 1, which she has recorded on the Erato label, came across as routine and joyless. Not the most interesting work to begin with (a rather weak pastiche of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schumann), Equilbey failed to find the score’s rhythmic balance which resulted in an uninspired reading. The orchestra did, however, produce a nice crescendo before the close of the last movement.

The best performance of the evening was the Coriolan Overture. It had a nice bite to it and a pulsating rhythm which held our attention throughout.

This was not the most felicitous evening at the OSM. La Maison symphonique appeared to be half full. Principal players were absent. It started late. And along with the routine and tiresome standing ovations, audience members clapped between movements, young people screamed and hollered, and the orchestra looked bored and unhappy. But as a friend opined, « every concert cannot be a transcendent experience »!

Earl Arthur Love



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