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Nézet-Séguin on Home Turf

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier
12/02/2010 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Magnificat in D Major BWV 243
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé (complete ballet)

Soloists of L’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal: Pascale Beaudin (Soprano 1), Karine Boucher (Soprano 2), Emma Parkinson (Mezzo-soprano), Aaron Ferguson (Tenor) and Stephen Hegedus (Bass-baritone)
The Orchestre métropolitain and Choir, and the Choir of l’Ecole Le Plateau, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

Y. Nézet-Séguin (© Trevor Lush/NAC-CNA)

Not only was Montreal’s wonder boy, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on home turf last Thursday night, he had also decided to tackle one the most impressive calling cards of Charles Dutoit, former music director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM). And in the same hall that is home to the OSM. In his remarks to the audience, Nézet-Séguin called Daphnis et Chloé "une œuvre fétiche à Montréal" (a cult composition in Montréal). But the confident young conductor, fresh from triumphs in Philadelphia, New York and Berlin, had nothing to fear.

When I first heard this orchestra seven or eight years ago in a neighbourhood hockey arena, it still had some work to do before entering the same class as the OSM. Today it can play with the same integrity, precision and finesse as the best.

It was evident from the first magical whispers of the basses and timpani that this performance would be special, that an enchanting nether-world was being revealed. Nézet-Séguin has the ability to take total command of an orchestra and to breathe life into a work. I am not speaking metaphorically. From the eighth row of the orchestra one can easily hear his long, sustained breaths that carry his energy and passion to every player. And he can maintain this concentration and tension within the dramatic line of a piece without wavering. Even better, he takes the audience along with him.

Nézet-Séguin’s evenly paced, 60-minute reading painted a palette of colors that perfectly matched the varying dance rhythms of the ballet. And can this conductor generate excitement! During the climax of "Lever du jour", with his arms extended towards the ceiling, trembling like a leaf, it appeared that he was going to levitate from the podium! No wonder audiences from Los Angeles to Berlin go wild after his performances.

Daphnis et Chloé is noted for its innovative, demanding and dramatic contrasts in orchestration. From the delicate sensitivity of the introduction to the orgiastic splendour of the final bacchanal, Nézet-Séguin sculpted an almost Brucknerian cathedral to nature. The wordless choir and the wind machine, both rarities within the orchestral repertory, also made significant contributions to Ravel’s magical sound world.

All sections of the orchestra played impeccably. Standouts included Marie-Andrée Benny (flute), Lise Beauchamp (oboe), Louis-Philippe Marsolais (horn) and Yukari Cousineau (concertmaster).

The evening’s performance began with Bach’s Magnificat in D Major. This was chosen, according to the conductor, to mark a joyous beginning to the festive season and to illustrate dance similarities with the Ravel.

The reading was spotty. The soloists were not all up to par. Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus gave a convincing, well-rounded performance with nicely rendered melismas. It was a mistake, however, to pair two large choirs with a reduced orchestra. The youth choir was not in tune while the sound from the adult choir was often muddy, fragmented and at times overwhelmed the orchestra.

Earl Arthur Love



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