ARTHUR KAPTAINIS, SPECIAL TO MONTREAL GAZETTE
More from Arthur Kaptainis, Special to Montreal Gazette
Published on: April 13, 2015
Last Updated: April 13, 2015 5:45 PM EDT

Pollack Hall has turned 40: not so old, although it is hard for many of us to remember a music scene without it. Alexis Hauser and the McGill Symphony Orchestra were called in to celebrate on Friday, with the expected results.

The big item in the second half was Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, a tone poem that starts with the halting breath and irregular pulse of a dying man and uses the flashback technique to conjure up his heroic youth. Woodwind colour was impressively dark at the start and brass blazes at the end were glorious.

Between we heard many fine solos, if generally at mezzoforte or higher. Hauser paced the approach to the final apotheosis to perfection.

This got decent applause but there was even more appreciation for Alexander Brott’s Spheres in Orbit. Brash in its outer sections and evocative in its quieter central episode, where dissonant clarinets and a string ostinato create an eerie equilibrium, this piece is a tour de force. Masterly orchestral touches include a trombone solo of Mahleresque difficulty. Brott’s centennial might well mark a rebirth of interest in his music. Hauser seems to be on board.

Victor Fournelle-Blain, who is already playing in the viola section of the OSM, pushed his tone but did not much vary it in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. The opening selection – and the only one Hauser did not conduct from memory – was De temps à autre by Francisco Ferro, a Schulich composition student. Uneventful long tones in the brass, erratic blips and burps in the woodwinds, lots of bang-bang-bang from the percussion and next to no engagement of the strings. Maybe I missed something.
akaptainis@sympatico.ca