A Heavenly Christmas Oratorio from Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Johann Sebastian Bach: Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248
Hélène Brunet (Soprano), Aidan Ferguson (Mezzo-soprano), Jacques-Olivier Chartier (Tenor), Alexander Dobson (Baritone)
Orchestre Métropolitain and the Orchestre Métropolitain Choir, Pierre Tourville (Choir Director and on Tour Conductor), François Ouimet (Choir Director), Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Conductor)
(© Philippe Jasmin)
The bane of every music critic is finding enough to say about a performance that is almost perfect. I usually aim for restraint and try not to gush when I’ve been overwhelmed by a concert. But Thursday evening’s ultimate performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio by Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain at Montreal’s Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste (concluding a tour of five city boroughs) was sensational.
It was one of those occasions where everything came together with perfection. Nézet-Séguin maintained a dynamic, rhythmic pulse throughout the evening with orchestra, choir and soloists. The reduced orchestra of about 40 members played exquisitely. There was not a false note. Each section was unified. The entries and conclusions were spot on and the dynamic markings adhered to scrupulously. It was delightful to hear Nézet-Séguin bring out various rhythms throughout the evening, recalling everything from Mozart to jazz. The setting in the beautiful church, the holiday lighting, the joy of the participants, the passion, love and leadership of Nézet-Séguin mesmerized.
The four soloists performed faultlessly. Hélène Brunet (soprano) sang like an angel. Her soaring honey tone (without a hint of vibrato), her poise and grace—even her tailored, dusty-yellow silk brocade gown—contributed to the ethereal, other-worldly dimension of the evening. Aidan Ferguson (mezzo-soprano) delivered no less an angelic performance. Her strong, radiant delivery was a perfect match for the celestial canopy of the work. Alexander Dobson (baritone), sang with authority and conviction. Jacques-Olivier Chartier (tenor) was the only soloist who may have had difficulty filling the vast church (packed to the rafters). I had no problem hearing his radiant voice as I was sitting in the front row, but I wondered about those in the back of the audience. Hats off for having engaged this young, sophisticated, up-and-coming quartet of singers.
The choir—nimble, confident and well-rehearsed, never sounded better. The contrapuntal play of the four voices, weaved tightly and effortlessly with the soloists and orchestra. On only two occasions, and for short periods of about two or three seconds, did they lag behind the orchestra. If one had to choose the highlight of highlights, the choir would win for their performances of the mighty fortresses which are the chorus sections. For this, the genius of Bach must share the credit. The chorales were also heavenly sung, as was the duet between the soprano choir and Alexander Dobson in Cantata No. 1.
The second highlight was, in fact, the duets—particularly between violin solo Yukari Cousineau and Chartier in the tenor aria of Cantata No. 4 (although Nézet-Séguin had to step in at one point to reduce Cousineau’s volume), and between her and the trio of Cantata No. 5, which again were sublime. Cellist Christopher Best and Chartier were also felicitously paired in the third recitative in the same cantata. Another standout was bassoonist Michel Bettez, and there was not a single blat from the brass during the entire evening. Kudos as well to Dorothéa Ventura on the organ.
Thank you Nézet-Séguin and Orchestre Métropolitain for this miraculous Christmas gift!
Earl Arthur Love