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Festival de Lanaudière kicks off with a tight, clean symphony

Festival de Lanaudière Opening Concert

  • Orchestre Métropolitain
  • Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor
  • At the Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay on Saturday

Saturday marked the opening of the 34th season of the Festival de Lanaudière.

The weather couldn't have been better. A gorgeous blue sky with great puffy clouds, the temperature hovering in the mid-twenties and a dry breeze meant great outdoor listening weather. The Amphithéâtre Fernand-Lindsay, located about 30 minutes outside of Montreal, seats 2,000 under the roof and on the lawn rolling up from it a few thousand more. By late afternoon the prime spots on the lawn were taken with picnickers waiting for the evening concert. By the concert's start the place was packed.

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Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Orchestre Métropolitain kicked things off with an all-Beethoven program featuring the monumental Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125.

To celebrate the work, Nézet-Séguin chose to reproduce the program when the great symphony had its world premiere in Vienna on May 7, 1824. The two pieces Beethoven chose to conduct as a prelude pay homage to the baroque: the Consecration of the House op. 124 overture and excerpts from the magnificent Missa Solemnis op. 123.

The Ninth Symphony is huge in every way – the range of musical expression, the size of the orchestra and choir, its length. The Orchestre Métropolitain choir was augmented by the Choeur Fernand-Lindsay. (Fernand-Lindsay was the founder of the festival who died in 2009). The first half, the overture and the excerpts of the Mass, had some lovely moments but suffered from playing that didn't quite hit the mark. The Symphony, on the other hand, was tight and clean and an overall success.

The overture to the Consecration of the House is a stately affair with a succession of chords heralding a procession. While rhythmically solid, there were some slightly sour sounds emanating from the woodwinds occasionally. By the time the band hit the fugue at the overture's core, things came together rather nicely.

For the Missa Solemnis and the Symphony, Nézet-Séguin assembled a fine array of voices: Canadians Layla Claire, soprano, Julie Boulianne, mezzo-soprano and John Tessier, tenor and American Nathan Berg, baritone. The three excerpts were the Kyrie, the Credo and the Agnus Dei. The Kyrie is the most traditional of the three movements in form with the choir and orchestra in a regal evocation of the power of the divine leading to the Christe eleison where we hear the soloists in an intimate affirmation of faith. There is some really beautiful pairing of tenor and mezzo voices here. I'm not sure if it's because of the acoustics of the amphitheatre, but the men's chorus was barely audible.

The Credo actually presages the complexity of the Ninth Symphony and has abrupt shifts in tempo, tone and colour. The divine drama of the crucifixion at times seemed to translate into an orchestral assault that was a shade too frenetic. The Agnus Dei was sung remarkably well.

Nézet-Séguin had everyone in shape for the symphony, including the larger choir. If there is a complaint, it would be that the third movement – with some very fine work in the winds and horns – didn't quite achieve the transcendence the score suggests. In the final fourth, Nathan Berg found the full power that was absent during the Missa Solemnis. The cohesion of soloists, orchestra and choir was a fine achievement.

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A note to the festival. Yes, it relies on strong community involvement, but a quarter-hour of speech-making in which all the companies involved in the installation of the video equipment are named? Isn't that why you print programmes?

The festival continues to August 7.

Special to The Globe and Mail.

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