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Andrew Wan Woes Concertgoers in Montreal

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
10/25/2023 -  & October 26, 2023
Johann Sebastian Bach: The Musical Offering, BWV 1079: “Ricercar a 6” (arr. Webern)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 35 in D major “Haffner”, K. 385
Anton Webern: Passacaglia, op. 1
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, op.  61

Andrew Wan (Violin)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Rafael Payare (Conductor)

A. Wan, R. Payare (© Gabriel Fournier)

Andrew Wan, Concertmaster for the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM), brought down the house on Wednesday evening with a refined and flawless interpretation of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. His only violin concerto, it is considered the ne plus ultra of the violin repertory. Mostly written in the instrument’s higher register, Wan dazzled the capacity audience with his finely‑honed technique in the 45‑minute masterwork. With his back to the audience, Wan also accompanied the orchestra between his solo sections. His tight, restrained control produced a lyrical sweetness throughout. The section marked cantabile early in the Larghetto movement rang with a pure singing tone; fast runs and trills were imbued with delicate sweetness; but rigorous muscularity was at play in the cadenzas. Judicious use of vibrato, close attention to markings (for example in sections marked delicatamente, dolce and perdendosi) left nothing be to desired in this brilliant performance.

Billed as a Viennese evening, the concert opened with Anton Webern’s arrangement of J. S. Bach’s “Ricercar a 6” the most popular piece from the canonical The Musical Offering. A ricercar uses one of each kind of instrument which passes the melody lines from one instrument to another after every few notes, while every note receives the tone color of the instrument on which it is played. The principal, developed by Arnold Schoenberg, is called Klangfarbenmelodie (tone‑color melody). According to the program notes, Weber’s intention was “to bring (Bach’s) music out of its esoteric, abstract presentation and make it alive...to bring it closer to the listener (sic!).” Premiered for reduced orchestra in 1934, the work is from the second Viennese school (the group comprising Webern, Berg and Schoenberg). Conductor Payare and the OSM gave an elegantly shaped rendition of the eight‑minute work, with appropriate phrasing and smoothly transitioned dynamics. Associate Concertmaster Olivier Thouin, substituting for Andrew Wan, était au rendez‑vous in his delicate, plaintive solo parts.

Mozart’s Haffner Symphonywas pure delight. Payare opened with a fresh, quick tempo and maintained a lively beat throughout. It appears that Payare has been molding the upper strings into a seamless unit; even the second violins placed to his right blossomed in the second movement. The timpanist was a little heavy handed in the third, but the joyous, fast‑paced Rondo brought the work to an ebullient conclusion.

Webern’s 10‑minute Passacaglia from 1908 (his first published work) is a dance of Spanish origin and consists of about 20 variations over an ostinato bass line. Considered a work of late Romanticism, like most of Webern’s compositions, it was heavily influenced by the death of his mother. After the work’s exhilarating and overpowering triple forte passages, the denouement felt like a downward spiral into hell. This mighty work was in sharp contrast to the rest of this “Viennese evening”, but a refreshing jolt to the senses. Kudos to principal trumpet Paul Merkelo for his smoothly restrained playing and to Jennifer Swartz for her glistening glissandos and immaculate touch on the harp.

As an encore, Wan admirably performed the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita in B minor.

Incidentally, the duration of this season’s concerts has been more generous than many spartan ones of the last. This program comprised about 80 minutes of fine music making. Bravo to all concerned.

Earl Arthur Love



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