The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal performance streaming on Tuesday night featured an overture, followed by a pair of Mozart arias for soprano and contralto, and culminated with a Beethoven symphony. The starting point for the later exploration of the Viennese repertoire composed around 1800 was the glorious music of Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni. In the first bars, two blasting D minor chords and the frightening three-quarters rests following them are meant to describe the entrance to Hell and the fate awaiting Don Giovanni, “Il dissoluto punito”. Here, the segment was less attention grabbing and carried less tension than it should have, a foretelling sign for things to come. Nevertheless, Bernard Labadie brought forward well the fragmented nature of the music, the little patterns that ascend and drop, the witty twists that make the score oscillate, like the whole opera, between comedy and tragedy.

Bernard Labadie © Antoine Saito
Bernard Labadie
© Antoine Saito

Maybe selecting several arias from Don Giovanni would have made for a more homogenous programme, but the chosen compositions for voice and orchestra – earlier and less famous – were interesting enough on their own terms. Contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux was the soloist in the recitativo and aria Ombra felice... Io ti lascio composed in 1776 and based on a text extracted from the obscure opera Arsace by Michele Mortellari. It is not the most exciting of Mozart’s works, but it still bears the unmistakable mark of the master’s style. After some time needed to warm up, Lemieux displayed a voice that, without being that powerful, was malleable enough and covered a significant range. A good actress, she tried to imbue the lament of an abandoned lover with both pathos and resignation. The repeated “Vengo, oh ciel!” (I am coming, oh heaven!) was emotionally rendered.

Venga la morte... Non temer, amato bene, K490, is a link in a chain of transformations that starts with an aria for the character Idamante in the opera Idomeneo and culminates with “Ch'io mi scordi di te? ... Non temer, amato bene”, K505, the latter being considered one of the most accomplished arias Mozart ever wrote. K490 includes a less intricate exchange between soprano and violin that can barely compete with the intimate character of the similar conversation between soprano and an extraordinary expressive piano “voice” in K505. The evening’s rendition was the result of the not always fully engaging dialogue between the clear-voiced soprano Karina Gauvin and the soaring violin of James Ehnes. Gauvin’s soprano was occasionally stretched in the upper register, but her legato and her ability to bring colors to her phrasing were evident. In the background, Labadie and the orchestra had little to say, being mostly concerned with not overwhelming the soloists.

Despite the perceivable warmth, the interpretation of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony lacked sufficient driving energy and incisiveness. Musical arches were well constructed, but necessary contrasts between adjoining phrases were insufficient. Various instruments blended well, with oboist Theodore Baskins and, especially, bassoonist Stéphane Lévesque distinguishing themselves. Overall, one had little sense that this bucolic score is as revolutionary and meant as much for the evolution of Western music as Beethoven’s Third and Fifth symphonies.

This performance was reviewed from the OSM's video stream.