The new edition of the Festival de Lanaudière was inaugurated this weekend with two concerts by the Orchester symphonique de Montréal and its conductor Rafael Payare with ideal weather and a program that had everything to charm festival-goers.
After three editions inaugurated with Mahler, the Festival de Lanaudière has set its sights on Beethoven’s Ninth, which the Festival had not programmed since 2007, but which the Orchester symphonique de Montréal had given to the Maison symphonique no later than in the spring of 2022.
The popularity of the event complicated the life of the festival-goers, the boulevard where the site is located being still heavily congested when the first notes were to be heard. Many music lovers therefore returned to their seats late, despite the fact that the start of the concert had been delayed by ten minutes.
Hence a certain brouhaha condemning Ligeti’s Lux æterna (it is its centenary of birth), the “antipasto” preceding the main course, not to be tasted at its fair value. If the association of the two works would have been very appropriate at the Maison symphonique, for example, the performance of such a fine score by 16 choristers a cappella in a huge outdoor amphitheater may not be ideal anyway. .
A Beethoven Ninth under such conditions produces, on the contrary, a jam-packed effect, which was not overlooked by the audience, who cheered the orchestra after each movement, and even after the choir’s first intervention in the finale, covering part of the passage “alla marcia” pianissimo preceding the entry of the tenor solo.
The Ninth of Payare started very well, with a first movement taken head-on. It is certainly not uninteresting to make this movement (allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso) slower, more hieratic, which many conductors do, but we are moving away from the spirit of an allegro. This, Payare understood very well, he who constantly revives the subject, giving everything an irresistible theatricality.
The scherzo (molto vivace) is in the same vein, although the main theme could have had an added degree of urgency.
The slow movement, however, left us more unsatisfied. Beethoven specifies adagio molto e cantabile (very slow and melodious). What Payare does is undoubtedly melodious, but the great slowness demanded, this feeling of infinity and immobility to which certain conductors attain, is difficult to perceive.
Moreover, the conductor goes much faster than the composer’s metronomic indication (about 70 to the quarter note instead of 60). It feels like he’s running a two-stroke rather than a four-stroke. Hence an unpleasant atmosphere of carelessness, not to say insignificance.
As at the Maison symphonique a year ago, the first utterance of the famous main theme of the finale is in our opinion too lively, the conductor somehow burning his ammunition too soon by sparing hardly any suspense. This voluntary side was, however, to give the rest of the movement a formidable energy.
Of the soloists, we especially appreciate the German soprano Vera-Lotte Boecker, with her brassy treble. As usual in this work, it is difficult to judge what the mezzo-soprano (here the British-Singaporean Fleur Barron) is doing, who essentially does filler.
The Anglo-Canadian bass-baritone Gordon Bintner shows great finesse, despite the failure of his high F sharp, when we would have preferred a more clear voice than that of the German tenor Julian Prégardien, yet a remarkable evangelist of the Passion. according to Saint Matthew at the OSM last year.
The formation was back with Payare on Saturday afternoon in front of a much more sparse assistance, but could not be more attentive. The Eastern European music program included the Quebec debut of Russian pianist Denis Kojoukhine in Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 in C Minor.
The 37-year-old blond, winner of the Leeds and Queen Elizabeth competitions, launches into this masterpiece of the piano repertoire with impressive confidence, his fingers pressing down the keys of the great Yamaha with solidity, but without harshness. Eminently expressive, he does not hesitate to slightly relax the tempo for the second theme, in E flat major on the piano alone.
His sense of cantabile is put to even greater use in the slow movement, despite a conductor who tends to perhaps want to advance a little too much. We nevertheless feel Kojoukhine sometimes at the limit of his means in the demanding finale.
As an encore, the pianist performs À l’église, from the Children’s Album, Op. 39, by Tchaikovsky, a work of moving sobriety.
Rafael Payare, for his part, made a faultless performance in the two scores for orchestra, La Moldau by Smetana, with sublime strings, and the formidable Concerto for orchestra by Bartók, which pushes any orchestra to its limits.
We have rarely heard this last work so sparkling with life, so mastered in every detail. The chef seems to be enjoying it like a little madman. No wonder the orchestra initially refused to stand during the applause in order to give the master builder all the honors that were due to him.
We will find Denis Kojoukhine in solo this Monday (8 p.m.) at the Saint-Norbert church in a Schubert and Liszt program.