Review: OM, Yannick make strong case for Farrenc

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Programing is not what it used to be, as Yannick Nézet-Séguin commented Friday evening to a masked and distanced crowd in the Maison symphonique. We used to expect Mozart and Beethoven. On this occasion – the second concert of the Orchestre Métropolitain subscription season – we got Bruch and Louise Farrenc, and were generally happy to accept delivery.

We also heard Schumann – Robert Schumann – whose Manfred Overture got this program titled “Romantic Treasures” off to an appropriately smoldering start. Strings were warm and legato was abundant. Scattered over an extended stage, the OM made a big-orchestra sound. Perhaps the slower passages could have been less stately. All the same, a good beginning.

The main event, however, was Louise Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3, an orthodox four-movement work of 1849 that never, in the slightest detail, goes astray. Whether its very polish somehow interferes with our ability to perceive it as individual is question worth asking. Given the cheers with which it was met, there are no grounds to suppose the crowd felt any reservations.

YNS links this masterful G Minor symphony with Mozart’s proto-romantic 40th in the same key. Farrenc also learned lessons from Beethoven. The stormy minor-mode sequence of the otherwise sweet-tempered slow movement was one; the use of horns and woodwinds in the trio of the scherzo, another. Yet despite Ludwigisms here and there, the music remained self-sufficient in conception and expression.

As for execution, it was excellent. This is far from a familiar score, but the OM musicians dispatched it with the authority, balance and pinpoint articulation (agile violins in the finale) they might have brought to an old favourite. Nézet-Séguin (dressed in basic black) was using a score but obviously had both absorbed the music and learned to love it.

There is, of course, now a political impetus to perform Farrenc. Successful in her own time, this mid-19th-century Parisian has lately come to the rescue of ensembles (including the OSM and Yannick’s Philadelphia Orchestra) that are desperate for classic female repertoire. Some of us were urging a critical reassessment of this composer before it became fashionable to do so. At any rate, I am glad YNS has joined the club.

The works of Max Bruch could also use another look, but his 1911 Concerto for Clarinet and Viola is likely to remain on the fringes of the repertoire. Soloists exchange nostalgic pleasantries in the first two movements but there is no coherent role for the orchestra before the Allegro molto finale. Nor do these instruments make an ideal sonic match. Still, there were beauties to be savoured in the confident performances of two OM principals, Simon Aldrich (clarinet) and Elvira Misbakhova (viola).

Pablo Rodriguez, minister of Canadian Heritage and MP for Honoré-Mercier, was present in the audience and duly acknowledged.

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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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