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Orchestre symphonique de Montréal Shines at Lanaudière

Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay, Joliette
08/06/2011 -  
Tōru Takemitsu: A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden
Gustav Mahler: Rückert-Lieder
Igor Stravinsky: The Firebird

Susan Graham (Mezzo-soprano)
The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Kent Nagano (Conductor)

S. Graham & K. Nagano (© C. Alonso/Courtesy of F. de L.)

Alex Benjamin, the Festival de Lanaudière’s Artistic Director, deserves credit for bringing five full-size orchestras to this year’s summer Festival. Last Saturday evening’s performance by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal outshone the other four (the Orchestre Métropolitain, the Orchestre du Festival, the Orchestre symphonique de Québec and the Philadelphia Orchestra).

The concert opened with Tōru Takemitsu’s (1930-1996) A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden. This 13-minute impressionistic work admirably blends eastern with western elements which may call to mind an oriental Debussy. Using an augmented orchestra that almost overflowed from the stage, the work opened and closed quietly. In between, the musicians used their superb talents to evoke with precision, and depth of colour, the geese landing in a Japanese garden. Nagano used tight control to draw the progression of crescendos to evoke foreboding menace, then restraint to elicit the calmness of order and tranquility.

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham then seduced the audience with a loving, tender interpretation of Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. These five independent songs were written about the same time as the other five that comprise Kindertotenlieder. As with the Takemitsu, according to the program notes, “they focus in part from the poet’s fascination with the East and its spiritual predilections for deep introspection, tender resignation, inner peace and withdrawal from the consuming cares of the outer world.” Graham’s powerful, but warm and colourful voice is the perfect instrument for this repertory. Her phrasing was unforced, her German diction impeccable (the program notes gave only the French text) and she wrought with conviction the sincerity, pathos and tender care that the gamut of emotions depicts in the songs.

After intermission, the OSM delivered an equally solid performance of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, written shortly after Mahler’s last songs. Again Nagano used the orchestra to impressive effect. From the brooding, ominous opening to the effervescent “Dance of the Firebird” through to the brilliant climax, all sections of the orchestra were in top form. Kudos to principal flautist Timothy Hutchins for his impressive solo work.

Earl Arthur Love



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