Sporting twenty Tiffany windows and audiophile sound, Montréal's 462-seat Salle Bourgie is just the right size for the Beethoven cycle by a socially-distancing Orchestre Métropolitain conducted by its music director and hometown hero Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal © Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
© Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal

The Eroica opened big, bold, celebratory and smooth, abounding with detail alive with the feeling that comes from individual instrumental expression and nuance. The exquisite woodwinds and heroic brass, each with their own individual sound, blended when they had to – but nothing was homogenized.

The musicians know HIP and added ornaments and appoggiaturas but infrequently and in mostly decorative ways. In the moderately paced Marcia funebre they added curious ornamental grace notes to the recurring trills in the double fugue. They interpreted the dots Beethoven sometimes uses for marking accents in a most variable way, from martellato to softly caressing. They played bars 181–183 with a uniquely comprehensive sense of the emotional and musical resolution they bring. The brutal timpani triplets towards the end signaled that beyond their stylistic decisions at any given point, their musical instincts are to be in touch with what they're playing bar to bar; they put their trust in Beethoven and Nézet-Séguin to make sure it's moving along.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin © Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
Yannick Nézet-Séguin
© Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal

In the Scherzo the flutes played with wonderfully pastoral Pan-like pipings, the horns in the Trio were brilliant and smooth in their iconic fanfares – and they articulated the key upbeats that within Nézet-Séguin's transparent palette of sound came through as never before.

Nézet-Séguin caught his troops slightly off guard at the beginning of the Finale, but they were en garde almost at once, the violins barking like the dog in Vivaldi's Four Seasons, the oboe unusually non legato for the theme, the oboe, clarinets and bassoons exquisite in the Andante. At several points Nézet-Séguin impatiently sped up the tempo, then launched the Presto without any warning at all and the orchestra responded by blazing forth so magnificently that it sounded like they were at full strength playing in their usual home, the Maison symphonique at the Place des Arts, which they share with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

If you are not going to play Beethoven's Fourth as dark and mysterious, then playing with its episodes of light and shade, lengthening out the legato lines of the violins whenever you can, and otherwise allowing yourself to be seduced and swept away by its relentless waves of physical pleasure may be the next best way. Nézet-Séguin's precisely judged cut time Adagio aligned with the cut time Allegro vivace so perfectly that the music sprang off at a great pace as if on its own, driven by the sheer virtuosity of players who revel in the variety of the composer's ear for vivid instrumental color. In a leisurely slow movement with a gentle underlying pulse, the clarinet touched immensely bleak solitary tones and the flute embraced golden radiant ones. The last two movements proceeded to the their thrilling conclusions without incident. 

Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal © Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
© Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal

The director used a good variety of camera angles to capture the dynamic presence of Nézet-Séguin synched accurately to the instrumental lines without being predictable, bringing individual players up close in a most affecting and intimate way. The sound, etched as if in analogue, has stunning depth and dynamic range; check out the way it captured the bite of the bow on the C and G strings in the cellos and double basses.


This performance was reviewed from the video stream on DG Stage.

*****