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Topsy Turvy with the OSM

Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
11/30/2011 -  & December 1, 2011
Ralph Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony – The Wasps, overture
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, opus 15

Leif Ove Andsnes (Piano)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Sir Roger Norrington (Conducator)

Leif Ove Andsnes (Courtesy of OSM)

Patrons entering the hall for Wednesday evening’s concert of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) were surprised to see a chamber orchestra on stage in the form of a stylized inverted heart. The top (facing the audience) was anchored by a grand piano with the keyboard facing the audience, flanked by the backs of several violinists on each side, and three double basses downstage completing the bottom of the heart. There was no podium, and no change in the program had been announced. Was pianist Leif Ove Andsnes going to give guest conductor Sir Roger Norrington a rest and conduct a chamber version of The Wasps overture from the piano? Well, no. On entering the stage with Andsnes, Norrington explained that “as it takes 15 minutes to position the piano for a concerto” (news to me) he had decided to present the concerto first, and save The Wasps as an encore if we clapped long enough after the London Symphony. (“Le roi s’amuse”, he joked.) He also noted that he was presenting an historic recreation of the concerto as it would have been experienced at the time of Beethoven.

Norrington, conducting while seated on a chair between the woodwinds and the cellos, and Andsnes delivered a bright, note-perfect performance with scrupulous attention to the dynamic markings of the score. The slow movement was lovingly intoned with gorgeous legato in the cantabile section, and the final movement was a fitting vehicle for Andsnes’ dazzling technique and finesse. The standing ovation was richly deserved.

Although Vaughan Williams denied that A London Symphony was program music, it was hard to suppress feelings of the early morning London mists rising from the basses, the hurly-burley of daily life portrayed by the winds, and the chimes of Big Ben rendered by the harp in this sweeping, atmospheric work. In this showcase for large orchestra, the OSM shone throughout and the myriad solo parts were without exception rendered flawlessly.

The concluding overture from The Wasps was a delight. Norrington charmed the audience by fending off the attacking wasps during the first few dozen bars and the orchestra quickly found the architectural line which it followed with freshness and buoyancy...a successful conclusion to an “inverted” evening.

Earl Arthur Love



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