La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

OSM and Nagano: Homage to Richard Strauss

by Paul E. Robinson


Strauss: Death and Transfiguration Op. 24
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor Op. 22
Strauss: Symphonia Domestica Op. 53

Benjamin Grosvenor, piano
Orchestra symphonique de Montréal/Kent Nagano

Tuesday, September 23, 2015
Maison symphonique
Montreal, Quebec

In a few weeks time the OSM will embark on its 10th tour of Japan, and its first-ever visit to China. At Maison symphonique the orchestra is currently polishing its tour repertoire. On the basis of what I heard there is still work to be done.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Mixed Message Programming?
The program was titled “Homage to Richard Strauss”, presumably to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth, yet nowhere in the printed program was there any reference to this fact. Curiously, the concert was dedicated to the memory of Franz-Paul Decker, a former music director of the OSM, who passed away earlier this year. One of Decker’s specialties was the music of Richard Strauss. Perhaps the title of the concert should have been “Homage to Franz-Paul Decker”, or “Homage to Strauss and Decker” with appropriate essays in the printed program. No reference in the program either to the fact that the Strauss pieces will be featured at the forthcoming concerts in Beijing and Shanghai. My impression is that there isn’t much communication between the OSM administration and the folks who put together the printed program.

Then there is the matter of presenting a program titled “Homage to Richard Strauss” and slipping in a piano concerto by Saint-Saëns. That makes no sense at all. Even program annotator Robert Markow was hard-pressed to find any connection between the two composers. He settled for “the sheer longevity of their lives” – 85 for Strauss and 86 for Saint-Saëns. I note that the China programs will be all-Strauss with the Saint-Saëns tossed out and the Four Last Songs tossed in.

Strauss' Domestic Symphony Rarely Performed
I tip my hat to Kent Nagano and the OSM for presenting the first live performance of the Symphonia Domestica I have heard in more than 60 years of concert going. It is a piece I got to know well long ago through recordings conducted by Fritz Reiner and George Szell. Conceptually it is a monstrosity. Can we really take seriously a piece that celebrates the minutiae of family life using an orchestra of 120 players, lasting 45 minutes and  frequently rising to climaxes of post-Wagnerian sweep and grandeur? No, of course not. It is ridiculous. On the other hand, the Symphonia Domestica contains some of the composer’s most beautiful melodies and stunning orchestral fireworks. So we take it for what it does well and forget the programmatic nonsense.

Nagano and the OSM musicians got a lot out of this Strauss rarity with outstanding playing from nearly every section. The fine bass section met every challenge with accuracy and beautiful tone. I was sitting in the left Loge section near the stage and so had a rather distorted sound picture. The horns, for example, even though they numbered eight, could scarcely be heard. On the other hand, the trombones pointed right at me, seemed prominent throughout the piece.

While most of the parts of the Symphonia Domestica seemed well-prepared, however, I had the sense that the orchestra needed to play the piece a few more times before they really got comfortable with it. The final fugue, for example, can be tremendously exciting but only when the conductor and the players have the confidence to really let go. It needs to go faster, without noticeable stops and starts, to make its full effect.

More Work to be Done!
I had a similar reaction to the performance of Strauss’ much earlier and mercifully much shorter tone poem, Death and Transfiguration. Lots of lovely moments but not yet a fully-realized performance. The final massive climax and the build-up which precedes it are among Strauss’ most inspired conceptions. In Nagano’s hands the climax didn’t come close to being the apocalyptic moment the composer must have had in mind. 

Death and Transfiguration is not the rarity that the Symphonia Domestica is and many listeners will have heard glorious performances on recordings and in the concert hall. My most recent experience came in a live performance by Muti and the Vienna Philharmonic - a gripping experience, and the kind of competition Nagano and the OSM are up against when they travel the world. More work to be done.

Benjamin Grosvenor
Lightweight Saint-Saëns Superbly Played
While the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 made no programmatic sense, the performance was first-class. Twenty-two year old British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor gives the impression that he is all business but he found plenty of humor and poetry in the piece. He tossed off the technical challenges with no trouble at all and never pushed the volume. To be sure, this is a lightweight piece but it benefits greatly from the attention of a fine musician like Mr. Grosvenor. Nagano and the OSM gave him a superb accompaniment.


Paul Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. For friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, “Classical Airs.”

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Monday, 29 September 2014

Cette semaine à Montréal : le 29 septembre au 5 octobre


 
Andréanne Brisson-Paquin
Le Trio Hochelaga invité des Lundis d’Edgar
Le Trio Hochelaga est considéré comme un important ensemble de musique de chambre sur la scène musicale québécoise et canadienne. La violoniste Anne Robert, la violoncelliste Chloé Dominguez et le pianiste Charles Richard-Hamelin, lauréat du 2e Prix au dernier CMIM, feront certainement une rencontre mémorable de ce concert animé par Edgar Fruitier. Le trio interprète des œuvres marquantes du répertoire romantique, de l’époque classique ainsi que des œuvres du 20e siècle. Maison de la culture Frontenac, 29 septembre, 20 h. www.accesculture.com
 - Renée Banville

Concerts pour enfants
Dans la grande région de Montréal, l’OSM est un incontournable avec sa nouvelle Maison symphonique. L’OSM et son chef ont toujours le désir de créer des mariages musicaux uniques. Avec le concert Les Trois Accords (30 septembre et 1er octobre), l’arrangeur Simon Leclerc saura séduire un vaste public. Il y a aussi la série conçue pour enfants Jeux d’enfants qui sera intéressante à vivre avec vos enfants ou petits-enfants.
www.osm.ca
- Marc-Olivier Laramée

Concert inaugural de la 26e saison à la Chapelle
La Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur ouvre ses portes le 1er octobre. Le nouveau directeur, Simon Blanchet, présentera les lauréats des bourses Guy-Soucie 2013, Andréanne Brisson-Paquin, soprano et Marek Krowicki, pianiste. Au programme: des œuvres de Schafer, Becker, Gellman, Debussy, Aboulker et Gougeon. À cette occasion aura également lieu le lancement de l’album souvenir La Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, le premier quart de siècle, écrit par Georges Nicholson et publié aux éditions Druide.
Durant la première semaine se succéderont l’ensemble Quartetski, avec le pianiste Alexandre Grogg, dans un programme Moussorgski (jeudi 2), les pianistes Matt Herskowitz et John Roney, auxquels se joindra la pianiste de jazz Lorraine Desmarais (vendredi 3), les pianistes Olivier Godin et François Zeitouni (dimanche 5) et le Trio Fibonacci (mercredi 8). www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/chapellebonpasteur
 - Renée Banville

L’Orchestre Métropolitain
Pour ouvrir sa 15e saison à la barre de l’OM, Yannick Nézet-Séguin présente le testament symphonique de Mahler, un compositeur qu’il chérit tout particulièrement. La 10e Symphonie clôture le cycle Mahler entamé par son orchestre en 2001. Maison symphonique, 3 et 4 octobre, 19 h 30. www.orchestremetropolitain.com
 - Renée Banville

Opéra Immédiat présente La chauve-souris, en version française
Après avoir produit plusieurs drames du grand répertoire lyrique tels que La Bohème de Puccini et Lucia di Lammermoor de Donizetti, la compagnie lyrique renoue avec la comédie dans cette opérette de Johann Strauss Fils. Comme l’Opéra de Montréal il y a deux saisons, Opéra immédiat proposera la version française de Die Fledermaus. L’unique représentation aura lieu le 4 octobre à la salle Marie-Gérin-Lajoie de l’UQÀM, sortant ainsi du lieu habituel des productions au Théâtre Rialto.
À l’affiche, Sophie de Cruz, Marc-Antoine d’Aragon, Yanick Alexandre, Éric Thériault, Julien Horbatuck, Julija Karakorska et Gustave Richard pour incarner tous ces personnages burlesques, en compagnie du Chœur d’Opéra immédiat. La mise en scène a été confiée à Frédéric Antoine Guimond. À noter la collaboration exceptionnelle de l’Orchestre philharmonique des musiciens de Montréal (OPMEM), dirigé par Carl-Matthieu Neher. 4 octobre 2014 – Salle Marie-Gérin-Lajoie, Université du Québec à Montréal. www.opera-immediat.com
 - Justin Bernard

L’Orchestre de l’Université de Montréal présente un concert d’œuvres variées aux inspirations parisiennes. Les jeunes musiciens joueront la Symphonie gaspésienne de Claude Champagne dans le cadre de la commémoration du 50e anniversaire de la salle Claude-Champagne. L’œuvre du compositeur québécois côtoiera au programme le Concerto pour piano en sol majeur de Ravel, la Symphonie en ré mineur de Franck et le troisième mouvement du Concerto pour piccolo et orchestre de Lowell Libermann. 4 octobre. calendrier.umontreal.ca
- Jacqueline Vanasse

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Sunday, 28 September 2014

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 29 - Oct. 5)

This Week in Toronto (Sept. 29 - Oct. 5)

Joseph So

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley (Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke)

Opera fans rejoice - the Canadian Opera Company's 2014-15 season is finally upon us! The first of two productions, Falstaff, marks the return to the COC of the great Canadian baritone (or bass-baritone as he is now billed) Gerald Finley. I would say he is currently the top Canadian baritone in the world today, combining an exceptionally beautiful voice with consummate artistry. This Robert Carsen directed show is a co-production with Covent Garden, La Scala, the Met, and the Netherlands Opera. The COC cast is proudly all Canadian. With the withdrawal of soprano Amanda Echalaz due to pregnancy, Alice is now Quebec soprano Lyne Fortin, making her long overdue debut at the COC - better late than never! Marie Nicole Lemieux is back with the COC as Dame Quickly, Russell Braun sings Ford, and Lauren Segal is Meg. Frederic Antoun and Simone Osborne are the young lovers Fenton and Nannetta. COC Music Director Johannes Debus conducts his first Falstaff. I went to one of the rehearsals and saw parts of Acts 2 and 3 - wonderful staging and singing. This is an absolute must-see this fall. Opening night is Friday October 3rd 7:30 pm at the Four Seasons Centre.   http://www.coc.ca/Home.aspx

Also of note at the opera house this week is the appearance of young artists from the University of Toronto Opera Program in a noon hour concert at Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on Thursday Oct. 2nd. The show is called Brush Up Your Shakespeare, and it features music from Handel to Broadway!  Here is the detailed program - http://files.coc.ca/pdfs/concert141002.pdf  Be sure to show up early to ensure a seat. 

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents two performances of Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, paired with the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 with Khatia Buniatishvili as the soloist. Some of you might have seen her a few short months ago at a recital in Koerner Hall. Buniatishvili combines phenomenal technique with an arresting stage presence - definitely worth hearing.  Guest maestro David Zinman conducts. Thursday Oct. 2 and Saturday Oct. 4 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.  http://tso.ca/en-ca/Home.aspx

Pianist Khatia Buniatishvili (Photo: Esther Haase/Sony Classical)

For something a little different, I can recommend the Soundstreams' new re-imagining of Vivaldi's The Seasons, re-composed by Max Richter, at Koerner Hall on September 30.  Violinist Daniel Hope is the soloist  As I don't think I can do justice to it with my own words, interested readers should look at the program notes by composer/broadcaster David Jaeger, posted on the Soundstreams website: http://www.soundstreams.ca/Sound-Stories/September-(1)/Program-Notes-The-Seasons  I can also recommend an article recently posted on Musical Toronto, John Teraud's old blog now being managed by composer-journalist Michael Vincent: http://www.musicaltoronto.org/2014/09/26/preview-soundstreams-opens-season-with-loving-tribute-to-vivaldi-in-the-seasons/

Violinist Daniel Hope (Photo: www.soundstreams.ca)

Three more interesting concerts this week: Gryphon Trio at Walter Hall on Sept. 29 7 pm, playing Tchaikovsky Trio in A, Op. 50, and two new works, by Wright with mezzo soloist Julie Nesrallah, and U of T composer and faculty member Chan Ka Nin. http://www.utoronto.ca/ 

The Amici Chamber Ensemble is playing on October 5th 3 pm at the Royal Conservatory of Music's Mazzoleni Hall.  The program is all Spanish music, by Albeniz, de Falla, Paco de Lucia, Guinovart and Lecuona. http://amiciensemble.com/

Last but not least is the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the MacMillan Theatre on Oct. 2 7:30 pm. David Briskin conducts the UTSO in Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 Op. 64, and Grieg Piano Concerto with pianist Victoria Chang

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