Two monumental works
Maison symphonique de Montréal, Place des Arts
09/12/2023 - & September 13*, 14, 2023
Leos Janácek: Glagolitic Mass
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Camilla Tilling (Soprano), Rose Naggar-Tremblay (Contralto), Ladislav Elgr (Tenor), Matthew Rose (Bass)
Jean‑Willy Kunz (Organist-in-residence), Choeur de l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Andrew Megill (Chorusmaster), Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Raphael Payare (Conductor)
(© Gabriel Fournier)
Two monumental works opened the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal’s (OSM’s) 90th season, and both received sensational performances – Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Both are powerful works requiring enlarged forces, and both were premiered just a few years apart – Stravinsky’s in 1913, Janácek’s in 1927.
In both performances entrances were spot on. The strings were lush and sonorous, the brass shone in gleaming unison, and the woodwinds played with impeccable intonation. The percussion, which practically dominated the evening, had the workout of their lives. Furthermore, conductor Payare maintained good balance, respected dynamics, rendered crescendos smoothly, and most importantly, perfectly captured the spirit of each work.
The text for the Glagolitic Mass originated in the tenth century and was written in an early form of the Cyrillic alphabet. But Janácek used the basic format of the Catholic version to produce a hybrid work. As an atheist and composer of dramatic operatic works (just think of Jenůfa, Katja Kabanova, etc.), Janácek conceived his mass not only in dramatic but also in pantheistic and nationalistic terms. He also employed folk tales encountered on a visit to Russia in 1896.
The eight-part mass for orchestra, soloists and chorus includes a rollicking organ solo in the penultimate section (for which organist Jean‑Willy Kunz moved from the stage console to the organ loft), and a blazing orchestral conclusion. Swedish soprano Camille Tilling (who, except for the chorus, had the largest vocal role) sang with polished tone, effortlessly soaring high notes, and just a hint of vibrato. Canadian contralto Rose Naggar-Tremblay sang her few lines with expressive assurance. British bass Matthew Rose, also with a minor role, performed with solid technique and effortless power. The Czech tenor, Ladislav Elgr, forced throughout much of the work—doubly disappointing as he was the only Czech participant. What impressed me most was the reverence Payare showed for the work, smoothly tempering both chorus and orchestra during quiet moments, and unsparing in soliciting power in the big ones. To cite two examples from the fourth movement: the striking instrumental passage in the middle, “Veruju” (“I believe!”), and the thundering chorus “Raspet ze zany” (“crucified for us”).
The OSM Chorus, prepared by Andrew Megill, performed flawlessly. Over 100 strong, they were arranged in a horseshoe pattern around the choir and first‑tier loges, with the sopranos stage left and the tenors stage right.
I was told that the OSM has performed The Rite of Spring more than any other work, and their familiarity with it was in evidence on Wednesday evening. Payare and the orchestra outdid themselves in the tight, flawless and riveting performance. I was tempted to return for the final performance on the following evening. At that concluding concert, the Université de Montréal, the largest French‑speaking university in North America, conferred a doctorat honoris causa on Mr Payare—his first.
Earl Arthur Love