A few months ago  Emmanuel Pahud performed a pair of flute concertos with Montréal's Orchestre Métropolitain, that lie within the technical capacities of intermediate flutists. This time round Pahud featured in Marc-André Dalbavie's Flute Concerto, a showpiece created for him and only playable by pyrotechnicians.

Victorien Vanoosten and Emmanuel Pahud
© François Goupil

In honour of his 53rd birthday, an impromptu rendition of Happy Birthday serenaded Pahud as he came onto the stage. Pahud joyfully joined in the playing, ending on a stentorian high D. In much of the Dalbavie concerto, passages in the solo flute part fly by at warp speed, so much so that only a Pierre Boulez could discern if the soloist is in fact hitting all the notes. Not only was Pahud up to the challenge, but even when his fingers were moving at lightning speed, he still sculpted melodic lines and clearly delineated phrasal arrival points. 

Gorgeously resonant flute tone quality throughout all registers was exploited in the lyrical sections, which constitute the most effective component of this composition. More could have been heard from the orchestra when called on to echo the soloist as well as to partner with the soloist in the layering of tone clusters. The sheer volume generated by Pahud when called upon to click his keys was mind-boggling; his approach to the quasi-aleatoric sections was eloquent. The OM's mallet players provided ample evidence of their own technical prowess. Despite the justly earned ebullient ovation that erupted immediately upon the concerto's conclusion, Pahud regrettably did not offer an encore.

The program had begun with the Swiss feminist, organist, conductor and composer Elfrida Andrée's Concert Overture in D major of 1873. After a shaky start, the OM settled down to render a performance that unveiled the work's latent charm. The contributions of principal clarinettist Simon Aldrich were particularly meritorious.

Victorien Vanoosten conducts the Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
© François Goupil

Cesar Franck's Symphony in D minor rounded out the evening. It was given an adequate reading by the OM under the baton of Victorien Vanoosten, a youthful French pianist and conductor. More intensity from the double basses would have enhanced the portentous sotto voce opening material. The shaping of this Leitmotif was imprecisely imitated as it was passed on to other sections of the orchestra, which was emblematic of the lack of attention to detail that characterized the OM's account of this work. 

Solid work from tubist Alain Cazes helped create a sense of direction in the first movement, but the English horn solo needed more cantabile phrasing. The solo horn contributions of Louis-Philippe Marsolais were stellar. The Montreal audience seemed to genuinely enjoy hearing this Franck symphony, which is rarely performed in North America nowadays.

Kudos to the Orchestre Métropolitain for having landed Emmanuel Pahud as their resident soloist for this season. While in Montréal, Pahud, an outstanding pedagogue,  is leading masterclasses and performing chamber music, thereby providing a momentous shot in the arm to the Montréal music scene.