Synergy may be encapsulated by the adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Undeniably, this is the case each and every time Yannick Nézet-Séguin is on the podium with Montréal’s Orchestre Métropolitain. On this occasion, the OM was joined by Seong-Jin Cho, who played Brahms' Second Piano Concerto. Cho displayed superb musicianship, particularly in the delicate sections, and was attuned to Nézet-Séguin and the orchestra, fostering a spontaneity that resulted in a fresh and expressive interpretation.

Seong-Jin Cho, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestre Métropolitain
© Ludovic Photographie Mtl

Kudos to the woodwind section for their laudable blend and transparency throughout the Brahms. In the second movement, aggregate teamwork precipitated a palpable ratcheting up of tension, ultimately culminating in some majestic music-making. The lyrical opening of the Andante was sensitively handled by the low strings. Heartfelt poignancy came across when the cellos enjoyed melodic material. Playfulness characterized the launch of the finale. Caroline Séguin’s contribution on piccolo was a standout. Just towards the end of the work, concertmistress Yukari Cousineau’s violin suddenly became unplayable, but the attendant kerfuffle was minimized and did not distract from the spectacular overall impact of this performance.

In his encore, Cho’s virtuosic handling of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte further showcased the beauty he draws from dolce passages and had the audience held spellbound.

Immediately prior to the second half, Nézet-Séguin remarked that he had chosen works that formed a triptych representative of Paris’ epochal arts scene at the beginning of the 20th century. Stravinsky’s Chant funèbre is a recently rediscovered youthful composition that was dedicated to the composer’s teacher Rimsky-Korsakov and is a harbinger of what soon would be revealed in works such as The Firebird and Petrushka. Highlights were the stopped horn solo of Louis-Philippe Marsolais and the spot on tuning in the low woodwinds. Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps benefited from reciprocal solo work by violinists Nancy Ricard and Yukari Cousineau. It evoked the effervescence of a Paris emerging from the Great War.

Seong-Jin Cho and Yannick Nézet-Séguin
© Ludovic Photographie Mtl

Around that same time, Ravel’s La Valse received its premiere in the French capital. A well balanced opening in the bassoons gave way to sumptuous string sonorities. Nézet-Séguin’s liberal use of rubato breathed life into this rendition of a familiar work. The important bass drum role was admirably handled- strong but not overpowering. Ravel was not one to shy away from exploiting the flute’s third register, and the OM’s flutists came through with flying colours.

The overwhelming success of this season finale concert was in no small measure due to the selection of repertoire that played to the strengths and capabilities of the OM. The effusive and prolonged standing ovation was richly deserved. Heading into his late forties, Montréal’s most illustrious maestro is reaching the peak of his prowess. Hopefully he will continue to provide us with many more decades of superb music-making. One’s merit as a conductor is largely determined by the degree to which one is able to elicit the maximum effort from each and every playern – at this, Nézet-Séguin excels in spades. With respect to the quality of playing that was attained on this evening, the whole was far and away greater than the sum of its parts.