In collaboration with the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts, musicians of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal presented late 19th century chamber music of Spanish and French composers on this Friday concert. The occasion was to mark the recent opening of the museum’s exhibition Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism: From Spain to Morocco, Benjamin-Constant in His Time. Akin to the French artists’ fascination with the exotic, a similar cross-pollination can be found in the influence of French romanticism on the Spanish pieces on the programme. There was also a hybrid of performers making up the chamber group, with veteran husband-and-wife team Luis Grinhauz and Berta Rosenohl on violin and piano and relative newcomers to the OSM Victor Fournelle-Blain and Sylvain Murray on viola and cello.

The concert opened with Granados' Piano Trio, a work highly influenced by the composer’s years of study in Paris. Set up by rippling arpeggios in the piano, the work begins with a romantic statement in violin, complete with molto vibrato and a dramatic glissando. The second movement Scherzetto was a lively dance in three featuring a call and response between violin and cello. The energy of this movement contrasted with the nocturne-like character of the third. Here, the piano had a brief moment to sing forth before receding back in to the texture. The Finale, a rondo movement, brought the group together, requiring abrupt shifts in mood and tutti passages in octaves. The playing here was crisp and together. Despite a technically accurate performance, this piece came off somewhat flat, perhaps with a bit too much restraint applied to a work with moments of Spanish appassionato.

Joaquín Turina
Joaquín Turina

The Turina Piano Quartet was another matter completely, a piece that moulds Spanish folk song and idioms in to classical forms. The work opened with a traditional Spanish motif presented in the violin – think of the parallel major chords ascending and descending that might stereotypically accompany a scene of a matador waving his red cape. Turina presents this material in a variety of guises throughout the work, with both fiery, rhythmic piano re-harmonizations and slowed, sorrowful appearances in the strings. The group’s rhythmic precision was on display here, particularly in the piano runs punctuated by string pizzicatos. This work seemed to sing out more than the previous one, the strings combining to a more cohesive voice and the piano’s fiery interjections propelling the work forward. The group did a wonderful job of conveying the energy and emotion of the work through dynamic control, transitioning between playful guitar-like strumming, Debussian tremolo runs and soaring melodies with ease.

Finally, we heard Saint-Saëns Piano Quartet no. 2 in B flat major, a lesser known work by the composer. The piece began very delicately with a much thinner texture than the previous works. The performers held their own in this greater exposed texture, preserving the clarity as they passed motives back and forth. The piece grew gradually in dynamics and texture, and the players were able to create a full, warm sound. Rosenohl’s solo piano opening of the second movement was strong; her confident, articulate playing was a highlight of the concert. As the strings worked in counterpoint, her playing was the backbone that held everything together rhythmically. There was also great communication between players in this piece. There was an excellent sense of pulse in the rapid repeated-note figures of the third movement and wonderful cohesion in the beautiful tutti playing of the fourth movement. Rising in the violin register, scalar runs and powerful piano chords brought the work to a dramatic finish.

There was a high quality of musicianship on display on this concert; while these performers may not regularly perform as a chamber ensemble, each individual contributed to the collective musical and emotional whole.