March was a Payare month for the Orchester symphonique de Montréal, which toured North America with its musical director three weeks ago and returned Tuesday evening with a German post-romantic program at the Maison symphonique. A concert that was worth especially for an anthology Heldenleben.

The evening’s soloist was the great Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who sang the title role of Norma at the Metropolitan Opera in New York just last Saturday. It was therefore impatiently awaited in Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, which replaced Strauss’ Four Last Lieder initially announced.

There is obviously nothing to say on the vocal level. The soprano, who appeared on stage with a splendid aquamarine dress, has one of the most beautiful instruments we have ever heard, round, brilliant, warm and supple. Diligently cultivating bel canto between more realistic roles (she also sang Fedora at the Met in January) is no stranger to the singer’s vocal health.

We are surprised – and saddened – however that the soprano did not find the time, between two “Casta diva”, to learn her text by heart. After all, we are talking about five relatively short pieces. We can well accept that a singer keeps a score at hand to secure himself, especially when he gives a work for the first time (this was the case on Tuesday evening).

Definitely more professional, Rafael Payare has nonetheless disappointed in the accompaniment of these jewels of the lieder repertoire. Everything is too fast, too voluntary. One can understand with “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder”, marked “very lively”.

But the rest ranges from “quiet, even” (“Um Mitternacht”, whose initial motif was not breathing) to “very slow and restrained” (“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”). You just have to let the music flow, taste each of the wonders it offers us. Like this delightful ninth chord preceding the penultimate intervention of the soloist in the twilight “Ich bin der Welt”, which Payare unforgivably lets slip.

We are all the more surprised by this carelessness that the chef knows how to manage these passages, which is not the case for all his colleagues. The proof is given no later than after the break with Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) by Richard Strauss.

One could have wanted something more grotesque, more cackling for the second theme, representing the representatives of this brotherhood hated by Strauss, to which the author of these lines belongs. But the rest is candy, with divine solos from concertmaster Andrew Wan and wisely carried away development. The whole orchestra is doing its part, the winds in the first place, with treble to melt from clarinetist Todd Cope.

At the start of the evening, the orchestra performed the very rare Heroic Overture by composer Johanna Müller-Hermann, a contemporary of Strauss who studied with Bruckner, Zemlinsky and Schmidt and a long-time teacher at the New Vienna Conservatory, closed by the Nazis in 1938 .

One could very well think of a work by the young Strauss. The melodic and harmonic imagination is profuse, with the use of exotic percussion reminiscent of Salomé.

The concert resumes Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and will be webcast later.