What might happen if a 29-year old rising star were paired with a 61-year old established fixture of the classical music world? In this case, Maestro Lorenzo Viotti and pianist Yefim Bronfman combined their talents for an afternoon of stellar music-making at Montreal’s Maison Symphonique.

Yefim Bronfman
© Dario Acosta

Viotti has already forged a thriving conducting career in Europe, where he regularly directs top tier orchestras. It is quite possible that this youthful maestro is being considered as a possible replacement for the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal’s music director Kent Nagano, who concludes his tenure at the end of this season.

The program opened with Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas Overture. After a rhythmically shaky start, the OSM settled into a secure rendition of this chestnut. Viotti showed that he is a conductor who knows when to get out of the way, thereby empowering his players to fully realize their expressive potential. The various sections of the OSM were consistent with their phrasing of the overture’s thematic material, which is not always the case with this orchestra. The spirited conclusion was particularly well done.

Bronfman joined the orchestra for Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor. His light touch combined with his flawless technique resulted in some sublime music-making. The woodwinds in particular tastefully wove their accompaniment material into the fabric of the first movement. In the slow movement, the orchestra occasionally overpowered the piano. Nonetheless, there was some especially fine work by the double reeds. Bronfman’s cantabile playing was elegant. In the final movement, he proved that technically demanding passages can still be played expressively. The left hand material was carried off with particular aplomb. In the gentler second theme of this third movement, the playing by the principal wind and string players was superb. Kudos to Bronfman for his consummate performance.

The concert concluded with Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Little Mermaid. An impressively ominous mood was achieved in the opening section. Although the overall balance was good, some of the tutti fortissimo material was overpowering. Both French and English horn solos were well played in the second movement where it was particularly evident that the OSM personnel were up to handling the technical challenges posed by this rarely performed piece. (A few months ago, the OSM had been publicly criticized by a guest conductor for having been allegedly under-prepared for an infrequently performed Bartók composition.) In the final movement of the Zemlinsky, there was some outstanding playing by the OSM’s clarinet section. Maestro Viotti brought the work to a rousing conclusion.

In this concert, Bronfman lived up to his star billing, while Viotti proved that he is a world-class conducting talent. Montrealers will be grateful to have either artist perform here again.