Montreal Gazette: Something for everyone at classical marathon

August 18, 2013

MONTREAL — “Programme, programme.” No, this was not the Expos rally at Jarry Park. This was the Cool Classical Journey in Place des Arts, where you could tell neither the players nor the pieces without the souvenir program being hawked in the main concourse by OSM volunteers in good voice.

There were 30 concerts in about 28 hours, many in the Cinquième Salle. I heard seven and a half, all strong. Most memorable was Menahem Pressler on Saturday in Beethoven’s soul-searching and life-affirming Piano Sonata Op. 110. This 89-year-old wunder-veteran played the arpeggios of the opening movement with a clarity that had as much to do with expert pedal application as with fingerwork. Have the repeated chords leading to the final fugue ever summoned the Beethoven faithful so persuasively?

There was some lumpiness the night before in the first movement Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat Major, but the clouds cleared by the Scherzo. Even the open G that starts the finale had (like the ornaments of Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor) a certain just-rightness that w

Photo by Martin Laporte

Photo by Martin Laporte

as hard to explain. Some people left to make the start of Mozart’s Requiem. I stayed for the encore, a Chopin Nocturne presented as pure poetry (and played from memory).

Many were the violinists. The established Frenchman Augustin Dumay (Mozart’s B Flat Major Sonata K. 454 with Pressler) led the field in tonal nuance; the young Montrealer Alexandre da Costa (with David Jalbert) was tops in intensity. One could not ask for a more idiomatic treatment of the stormy outer movements of Brahms’s Sonata Op. 108. If Beethoven’s Spring Sonata seemed torrid rather than vernal in the finale, this was the prerogative of the alpha-male perspective.

OSM concertmaster Andrew Wan (with Philip Chiu) expertly adapted two passionate works, Mozart’s Sonata in E Minor K. 304 and Franck’s Sonata, to the tiny Studio-théâtre. All the essentials were there. Hyeyoon Park, a young Korean, played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in the closing concert in the Maison symphonique with a bright, buoyant tone.

Mozart was the spotlight composer, but there was room also for Brahms’s burly Trio Op. 8, performed with maximum sweep and power by André Laplante (piano), Matt Haimovitz (cello) and Dumay. Haimovitz was one of two artists reading from an electronic tablet rather than sheet music.

The other was Angela Hewitt in Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds K. 452. This London-based Canadian provided a smartly articulated foil for the rich sounds of four OSM regulars, of whom oboist Ted Baskin seemed the most naturally Mozartian. My only problem was with bassoonist Stéphane Lévesque. He was blocking my view of Angela. Of course, there were no obstructions during her solo piece, Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, finely coloured if rhythmically stretched.

This marathon was an OSM production, so naturally Nagano and the orchestra were among the offerings. I cannot render comprehensive judgment on the Requiem because of the Pressler overlap, but what I heard on Friday sounded good, the Sanctus compensating in splendour for its problematic brevity. Nice quartet, lucid chorus.

The aforementioned closing concert on Saturday night started with a waspish account of Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture and ended with a performance of Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos that placed the soft sound of Pressler (animated, as always, by exquisite rubato) in perspective with the sleeker tone of Kit Armstrong, a 21-year-old American. The cross-generational collaboration was entirely sympathetic. And the bravos were robust.

The OSM announced a participation of more than 20,000. Kind of like a good day in Jarry Park.

By: Arthur Kaptainis

Read at: Montreal Gazette

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