In mid-January, Montrealers were able to enjoy five consecutive nights of varied performances, all headlining the works of Franz Schubert. At this 15th January concert, time was taken to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. On this date in 1935, the Concerts symphonique de Montréal presented its first public concert. That ensemble evolved to the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. Over its storied history, the city’s premiere professional orchestra has attracted star international conductors to serve in the post of Music Director, among them Igor Markevitch, Zubin Mehta, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and Charles Dutoit.

Kent Nagano © Antoine Saito
Kent Nagano
© Antoine Saito

This concert was led by the current Music Director, Kent Nagano, who is in his final season at the helm of the OSM. Initially, we heard Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville. (Schubert admired the wildly popular Rossini.) In this rendition, we enjoyed some nice moments afforded by the principal flute, oboe and clarinet. There was some exceptionally clean playing by the first violin section although the string section didn't carry the intensity it put out in the fortissimo sections to the softer dynamics.

Baritone Dietrich Henschel featured in Figaro’s exuberant entrance “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville. Henschel capitalized on his charismatic stage presence and his effortless technique enabled him to fully exploit the playful nature of the music, which the audience ate up.

Dietrich Henschel and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal © Antoine Saito
Dietrich Henschel and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
© Antoine Saito

The first half of the concert concluded with Schubert’s Symphony no. 3 in D major. Here the playing was significantly more polished, more expressive and the overall balance was better. The solo clarinet playing was a highlight.

After intermission, it was back to Rossini. Canadian-trained mezzo soprano Rihab Chaieb sang the Willow Song from Otello as well as “Una voce poco fa” from The Barber of Seville. Ms Chaieb consistently sang from the heart and her upper tessitura carried particularly well. She was an exuberant Rosina and seemed to enjoy portraying the role of a coy and clever heroine.

Rihab Chaieb and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal © Antoine Saito
Rihab Chaieb and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal
© Antoine Saito

The final work was Schubert’s Sixth Symphony in another polished performance. There was some particularly impressive playing by the flutes in the opening movement. A lyrical dolce style was achieved in the slow movement, and Nagano’s attention to the inner voices reaped handsome rewards. The violins were up to the technical demands imposed in the Presto section of the third movement and there were some beautiful cantabile moments in the finale.

The capacity audience at Montreal’s Maison Symphonique seemed to be delighted with this concert in particular, as well as the Schubert festival in general. Happy 85th birthday to the OSM!

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