A stirring finale to OM Brahms cycle

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Happy ending. Not literally, of course, since Brahms’s Fourth Symphony – as Yannick Nézet-Séguin pointed out Saturday to an audience of about 250 in the Maison symphonique – is unusual in that it concludes tragically, in the minor mode.

Still, there are assertions of optimism in this great score, and interludes of tender melancholy. We got comprehensive sense of its beauties in the final installment of a cycle of Brahms symphonies by the Orchestre Métropolitain. What a shame, as YNS said, the composer wrote only four.

As in the prior concerts, Yannick conducted the symphony from memory, although it was clear that he had given thought to many particulars. The second movement and finale were played attacca, with no pause. It was an interesting experiment that managed to enforce continuity while, paradoxically, enhancing the independent character of the four movements.

The Andante moderato second movement was especially poignant. Strings sang warmly in the return of second subject, a passage YNS takes to heart. Even the pizzicati sounded full-bodied.

First and second violins were stationed, as usual, on opposite sides of the stage. There were some imbalances in the denser writing of the first movement, but elsewhere the orchestra of 64 sounded solid and built from the bottom up.

Various moods were successfully captured. One could not have asked for deeper mystery in the quiet transition from the development to the recapitulation of the first movement. Yannick warned the crowd that he and the orchestra intended to live up to Brahms’s Allegro giocoso marking in the third movement. It was indeed a boisterous account, even if it was hard to make out the ringing of the famous triangle. No depressing headlines in this music.

Then the finale returned us to reality. While an onslaught of 30 variations guarantees some degree of variety, Nézet-Séguin managed to add more with expressive adjustments of dynamics and tempo. Brass spoke powerfully. A tragic ending? Yes, but there were glimpses of hope, notably from principal flute Marie-Andrée Benny, who was rightly awarded an ovation for her plaintive solo in the 12th variation.

Yannick, active as always, was dressed sleekly in black. A flamboyant print shirt would not do in this symphony. Everyone seems to have adapted to the distancing regimen. It was hard from the parterre to see how players were arrayed at the rear of the stage in Dvorak’s Serenade for Winds, the upbeat starter, but they made pleasantly bubbling sounds.

There was a formal presentation between works of the $125,000 Mécénat Musica Prix Goyer to the young conductor Nicolas Ellis, who holds the title of collaborateur artistique with the OM. The concert will be available online from May 21 to 30. Go to www.orchestremetropolitain.com.

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About Author

Arthur Kaptainis has been a classical music critic since 1986. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Musical Toronto. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto. Since 2019, Arthur is co-editor of La Scena Musicale.

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