Forty-six years after his international debut, Yefim Bronfman was back with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal this time to perform Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. In 1975, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal's Music Director Emeritus, Zubin Mehta, invited the then Israeli teenage piano sensation to share the billing with him on a return engagement with his former Montreal orchestra. In the ensuing decades, Bronfman has established himself as a top tier world class pianist.

Yefim Bronfman and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
© Antoine Saito (2019)

An OSM audience was rewarded once again, as Bronfman turned in a breathtaking performance. The orchestra, in the capable hands of guest conductor, Thomas Søndergård, gave a polished rendition of the initial theme of this concerto. Nonetheless, the music-making was taken to a heightened level with the entrance of Bronfman's solo voice, which excelled in both powerful marcato as well as florid lyrical passages. The balance between piano and orchestra was consistently fine tune, a credit to both conductor and soloist. Bronfman's attention to the lovely inner voices of this concerto contributed significantly to the expressiveness of his interpretation. Important timpani passages at the end of the opening movement were adroitly handled and the piano opening of the second movement was gorgeously played. Woodwind and string sections rose to the occasion in answering Bronfman with exquisite renderings of Beethoven's magnificent slow movement melodies. In the finale, he set a sprightly, but not frenetic, tempo which suited the character of the music (there was also some nice solo clarinet work here). Overall, a laudable degree of symbiosis was attained between orchestra and soloist. Both forces were sensitive to the other's playing, resulting in a spontaneous interpretation that lifted the music off the page. Beyond a doubt, the OSM brought their A-game to this collaboration.

Next was the premiere of Precipice, an OSM commission by American composer Dorothy Chang, who is currently on faculty at Vancouver's University of British Columbia. The palette of percussion section sonorities employed added a great deal to the evocation of an array of contrasting moods. In the reverberant acoustic of this hall, the percussion section became overpowering during the work's turbulent sections. Once again, the orchestra turned in a solid, well-rehearsed performance.

Maestro Søndergård afforded himself well in the Fifth Symphony of Sibelius. His thorough command of the score enabled him to elicit some lovely phrasing from the musicians, although in the middle movement, the pizzicato playing of the strings was marred by occasional rhythmic issues. The final movement of this symphony is a jewel of early 20th-century orchestral repertoire. The pairs of French horns heralding this movement's famous theme could have matched more closely, both in sonority and articulation. Overall though, with the recent addition of some new personnel, the OSM's brass section is sounding better than ever. Technical challenges in this movement were handled with aplomb by the full string section. The well-spaced short notes that conclude this work were spot on together – no easy feat. This made for a dramatic conclusion to the concert.

 Based on the warm audience reaction afforded this performance, it is safe to conclude that  Montrealers would welcome a return visit by Thomas Søndergård.