With November upon us, Remembrance Day is approaching. This Orchestre Métropolitain concert took place near this day to pay tribute to veterans and also marked the 70-year anniversary of the end of World War II. Visiting conductor Cristian Măcelaru led the orchestra through works that addressed war through both programmatic allusions and through solemnity and sombre tone. The Orchestre Metropolitain emphasized the emotional power of these works, but may have slightly missed the mark on programming.

Christian Măcelaru © Sorin Popa
Christian Măcelaru
© Sorin Popa

Although each work on this concert fit the theme, it seemed that some pieces were able to provide a more nuanced discourse related to the anniversary of World War II. Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, a concert favourite, is one example of such a work. Written during the Second World War, Copland dedicated this piece to every man and woman who contributed to the war effort by promoting peace in their lives, highlighting the power of each individual to make a difference in the world. A faster tempo was taken, and the result seemed more concerned with military-band-like precision than the expressive qualities of the piece. Despite this, the work served as a strong opening to the concert, drawing the audience in with its straightforward musical language and powerful brass calls.

Haydn’s Symphony no. 100 in G major did not seem to deliver as strong of a programmatic message. This work bears the epithet “Military” due to a few moments featuring military band instrumentation, such as the use of solo trumpet and percussion in the second movement. However, the work engages with war only on a surface level – the second movement is followed by a light-hearted third movement unrelated to the horror and suffering of conflict. Regardless of these matters of programming, the orchestra’s performance captured the spirit of the work. Măcelaru brought enthusiasm to his conducting, emphasizing playful dynamic contrasts and variations in articulation. In the final movement, the orchestra played synchronously through brisk running passages, achieving clarity of line.

The second half of the program featured Górecki’s Symphony no. 3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs". This 55-minute work is notable for the popularity it achieved in the 1990s following the fall of communism and the spread of Polish music in the West. A 1991 recording of the symphony sold 700,000 copies and shot to the top of the UK charts. Of this popularity, Gorecki has said “perhaps people find something they need in this piece of music… Somehow I hit the right note, something they are missing.”

The Orchestre Metropolitan successfully created the shimmering string textures that bring this symphony to life. The first movement features a series of imitative lines spreading gradually through the orchestra, and here the players displayed a high level of concentration. Emerging from the depths of the solo basses, the layering of independent voices formed a sort of flow. The wash of sound created a blurring effect with the work’s main motive occasionally bubbling to the surface. Soprano soloist Marianne Fiset embodied solemnity both in her singing and in moments of silence. Even in the 15 minutes before her first entry, Fiset maintained a sombre, reflective character in the way she held herself. The balance between singer and orchestra was an issue in the first movement, though this was improved as the piece progressed.

The second movement comes closest to addressing the theme of war, the text drawn from a prayer scratched on the wall of a cell by an 18-year-old Holocaust victim. Fiset provided a compelling performance, meeting the difficult challenge of striking the difficult balance between hope and despair in this powerful movement. She navigated the arch of the vocal line, from the dark lower register to its powerful reach upward. The final movement, with its oscillating musical motive, allowed the orchestra to shape the repetitive musical material. This served as a meditative conclusion to the concert.

With varied musical styles on this program, the Orchestre Metropolitain was able to capture many moods evoked by war time, from patriotism to longing and mourning. Amazingly, these works invoke awe not based on virtuosity, but on emotional force. The concert allowed audiences to reflect on the evening’s themes while engaging with compelling, emotive works of art.