A positive aspect of the current pandemic for Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain is that their music director has been forced to forego many of his international commitments. Until borders reopen, Yannick Nézet-Séguin is residing in his native Montreal and, therefore, focusing on his local orchestra. He has faithfully remained their musical director over the past twenty years, a relationship analogous to that of Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra – a top-tier international maestro who has remained devoted to a woefully underpaid orchestra. 

Yannick Nézet-Séguin
© François Goupil

As is the case with many professional ensembles so far this season, the OM is currently recording performances which are being made available as webcasts. This concert from the Maison Symphonique, Montreal’s premiere orchestral venue, began with the Second Symphony of Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a French composer who worked in Paris during the period of the French Revolution. Bologne, a true Renaissance man, is the first known classical composer of African ancestry. It was evident from the initial downbeat that Nézet-Séguin’s conducting fosters musical expression. This rendering was expressive, yet nicely controlled. The cello and string bass lines in particular were clearly delineated. Mélanie Harel provided some beautiful oboe solo work. The overall balance of this edited recording was markedly superior to that of the OM’s recently released webcast of the Fauré Requiem.

Stéphane Tétreault
© François Goupil

Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto no. 1 in C major was rediscovered in a library in Prague in 1961. Stéphane Tétreault was the soloist here. While growing up in Montreal, Tétreault was fortunate to have had the late Yuli Turovsky (conductor of the acclaimed chamber orchestra I Musici de Montréal) as his cello teacher. 

Tétreault’s performance was the highlight of the concert, his execution impressively clean. Both soloist and orchestra provided a pleasing dance-like effect for the initial theme. Rubato was both judiciously deployed and expertly synchronized with the orchestra. At times, Tétreault's use of portamento bordered on the excessive for a Haydn concerto. Just prior to the first movement cadenza, the melody was lovingly passed from soloist to first violins – sublime music-making. The initial cello entry in the second movement, comprised of a gently floating sustained note which subsequently takes over the melody from the violins, was exquisitely handled. The second movement cadenza was impressively rhapsodic. The rapid string crossing required of the soloist in the final movement was adroitly handled. Tétreault plays with a maturity beyond his years. His talent looms large.

Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
© François Goupil

The concert concluded with Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor. Understandably, the orchestra was more at home here than with the Chevalier de Saint-Georges' work, and hence turned in a more polished performance. This was particularly evident in the technically demanding final movement. Throughout the symphony, the string sections were not bombastic, as is too often the case with modern instrument orchestras. Nézet-Séguin and his ensemble achieved superb balance overall, especially in the winds. The contrasting characteristics of the various themes were expressly delineated, particularly in the third movement. Congratulations to Simon Aldrich for his outstanding contributions on clarinet. With no audience in the hall, it was a welcome change to be able to hear the full resonance and subsequent decay of the of the sonorous final chord. 

Montrealers anxiously await impending webcasts from Nézet-Séguin and the OM. They will no doubt provide sustenance for music enthusiasts through the long winter of isolation that awaits us.

This performance was reviewed from the OM video stream