Review by Lucie Renaud from my May 2014 concert with Appassionata in Montreal.
October 6, 2014, 12:00 am
A concert full of surprises
One must beware of preconceptions. For their last concert of the season, the Appassionata Chamber Orchestra combined a Mozart piano concerto with Beethoven’s Second Symphony and with the Tombeau de Couperin. I was looking forward to hearing the Concerto K. 488 and its sublime slow movement, one of the most heart-rending pages in the repertoire; I wasn’t sure Beethoven’s Second would manage to charm me; and I was already gritting my teeth in preparation for the Ravel, which the MSO plays and plays again each season and which fills me with a deep indifference. This, at least, is what I thought, and what I said to the friend accompanying me, minutes before the concert. But I was wrong all along the line…
A few seconds were enough to remind me what an exceptional musician the oboist Josée Marchand is, but also to convince me to surrender unequivocally to Daniel Myssyk’s interpretation. Rather than being drowned in an imposing orchestral mass, each line of the Tombeau de Couperin was brought out with heightened clarity: the textures became aerial, the articulations crystalline and the tonal colours translucent. The merest breath had been carefully studied, as was evident for example in the adroitly calibrated phrase endings of the Menuet. The stately tempo of the Forlane allowed the closing Rigaudon to unfold clear and brilliant. I had the impression that I was discovering the piece for the first time. I finally understood the homage Ravel wished to pay both to the harpsichordists of yesteryear and to friends lost in action.
The orchestral introduction to the Mozart concerto confirmed that Myssyk’s conception of the composer’s work is operatic, never maudlin. The piano’s entry was executed with less softness and subtlety, unfortunately: each note sounded strangely isolated from its predecessor, as though David Jalbert had wanted to sculpt each and every one of them, perhaps in order to ensure that they project adequately into the hall. A sort of increased distinctness that would no doubt have been necessary in a large hall with imprecise acoustics (like the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier), but that here gave the impression of overplayed forte passages. Yet the piano and even the mezzo piano passages didn’t lack for subtlety, and flowed naturally. Were we perhaps dealing with two different, non-complementary visions of the same work?
After intermission, the concert was devoted to Beethoven’s Second Symphony. Conductors are often tempted to treat this work as the continuation of an earlier Mozartian aesthetic, despite its being contemporary to the Heiligenstadt Testament. Daniel Myssyk reads it rather as prefiguring the devastating energy of the Eroica, since all the elements that will combine to create Beethoven’s trademark are already present: a scherzo that has come into its own, finely worked contrasts of nuances, the implacable quality of the rhythm… The attention evidently lavished on the nuances is also remarkable: the sforzandos act as much as elements of surprise as of support – or diversion – for rhythmic expressiveness. The sound remains consistently round, never forced, the crescendos are perfectly measured (consider the beautiful ascent toward the apex of the second movement, just before the return of the principal theme!), and each theme is awarded a distinct personality.
One walks out of the concert reflecting that even the pieces one least wanted to hear again have not yet yielded up all their secrets. Sometimes all it takes is a guide who can dust them off with sufficient skill…