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Dalia Stasevska Leads Inspiring Performances in Montreal

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
04/19/2023 -  & April 20, 2023
Sofia Gubaidulina: The Light at the End
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 6 in D minor, op. 104
Frédéric Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, op. 21

Bruce Liu (Piano)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Dalia Stasevska (Conductor)

D. Stasevska (© Antoine Saito)

The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) was at the top of its game Thursday evening under Finnish-Ukrainian conductor Dalia Stasevska in the first two works of their program. The concert opened with the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina’s 2003 composition The Light at the End. The 25‑minute work in one movement for large orchestra explores the tension and conflicts between enduring dualities, for example, between pairings/groupings, personal/society, and transitory/eternal. Gubaidulina anchored the piece in the medieval Dorian mode using two tuning systems–the natural, exemplified by the solo horn, and the conventional (in use since the Baroque period) by the solo cello.

Stasevska’s impassioned and tightly controlled conducting inspired the orchestra throughout. Each section got to show off its talents in the contrasting conflicts or “dialogues” with each other. Both the upper and lower strings played with superb precision, with a shimmering sheen in the upper and profound depth in the lower. The augmented percussion and woodwind sections elicited visions of nature at play and the entire orchestra at its loudest and mightiest suggested the colossal forces at play throughout the universe. Solo cellist Brian Manker deserves kudos for his superb performance in the duet with the solo horn halfway through the work, in which the conflict between competing forces reaches its zenith. Solo tubist Austin Howle also deserves praise for his lengthy (for a tuba!), flawless solo.

Stasevska took to the microphone before Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony to suggest the best listening method for this relatively subdued work. She explained that the symphony resembled more a poem than a narrative and that its profundity and honesty could be best appreciated by taking a meditative attitude–by just letting ourselves be aware of all that is surrounding us. Stasevska also noted that the seven symphonies became shorter and denser as they progressed, with the Seventh at 20 minutes and the subsequent symphonic poem, Tapiola at a mere 17. Again, the orchestra played with precision and clarity, with a good pace and even balance among sections. The only section with a fff marking (which occurs in the third movement) and the delicate ending were particularly effective.

Montrealer Bruce Liu, winner of the 2021 Chopin International Piano Competition and the OSM Competition in 2012, gave an exquisite, if tepid, rendering of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Superlative technique, a poetic sensibility, flawless trills and arpeggios, and a velvety touch were in full display. A little muscle and more dynamic contrasts in the outer movements, however, would have added more verve and life to the performance. Too often one finds pianists playing in an exclusively subdued, lyrical manner that robs works of their full potential. This listener would have enjoyed a performance comparable to the 1999 OSM recording with Martha Argerich and Charles Dutoit.

Earl Arthur Love



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