Jean-Philippe Collard shone as the featured pianist as Montreal’s Orchestre Symphonique (OSM) performed three contrasting 20th century works before a packed house at its Maison Symphonique concert hall, with Kent Nagano was on the podium. When Nagano steps aside as the OSM’s music director in 2020, he will have been with the orchestra for sixteen years. Nagano has said: ”Over the past years we have accomplished nothing short of a miracle in shaping such a vital, financially stable, boldly innovative orchestra that continues to illuminate the relevance of the symphony orchestra for the 21st century.” Nagano may be credited with providing stability for Montreal’s premiere professional orchestra, while maintaining the ensemble’s world-class reputation that had been forged by his predecessor Charles Dutoit.

Jean-Philippe Collard
© Seldy Cramer Artists

Seventy-one year old French virtuoso Jean-Phillipe Collard is a protege of the legendary Vladimir Horowitz. Heis renowned for piano playing imbued with subdued lyricism. He is the OSM's artist in residence for this season.

The concert began with Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques for piano and a small ensemble of woodwinds and percussion. The work, commissioned by Pierre Boulez, was premiered in 1956. This ingenious representation of birdsong is dissonant, both melodically and harmonically. Collard was a tour de force in his handling of the demanding piano part. The woodwinds were effectively situated to create stereophonic effects, their accompaniment laudably balanced by Nagano.

The subsequent composition, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, is markedly more consonant than the Messiaen. Ravel wrote that he strove to create a concerto that was both lighthearted and brilliant. The composer calls on the music of the Basques to achieve a jazzy flavour. The OSM’s piccolo player, principal trumpet, and harpist were all standouts in the opening movement. Collard’s remarkable fluidity came to the fore in the rhapsodic middle movement. Collard demonstrated a visionary affinity for this marvellous work.

After intermission, we were treated to a performance of The Planets by Gustav Holst. Written during the First World War, the work represents the (then discovered) planets of our solar system and their corresponding astrological character. It is Holst’s most popular composition and a mainstay of the orchestral repertoire.

Kudos to the euphonium soloist in this evening’s robust realization of Mars, the Bringer of War. In Venus, the Bringer of Peace, the contributions of the solo French horn and flute section were particularly impressive. The playing of the strings in the frenetic Mercury, the Winged Messenger was not always ideally clean, but Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity was tastefully vibrant, where the entire brass section shone. The ethereal music of Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age was heightened by the transparency achieved by Nagano. He is a conductor who hears all the parts, and knows how to ensure that each and every line is audible. The orchestra achieved a palpable sense of foreboding in Uranus, the Magician. An iridescent effect was realized in Neptune, the Mystic. The offstage treble choir (Les Chanteurs du Mont-Royal) contributed in no small measure to this movement’s evocativeness.