Canada Mozart, Richard Strauss: Todd Cope (clarinet), Orchestre symphonique de Montréal / Susanna Mälkki (conductor). 6.10.2020 performance from Montréal’s Maison symphonique, reviewed when streamed live on the OSM website. (LV)
Mozart – Clarinet Concerto in A major K.622
R. Strauss – Le bourgeois gentilhomme Op.60
Suitably distanced and masked except for conductor Susanna Maliki, soloist Todd Cope and the winds, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal performed with their accustomed fluent ease, thrilling virtuosity, reduced string sections and full complements of winds and percussion, in music by Mozart and Richard Strauss that desired to please.
The OSM played Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with contrasting phrases in the introduction, the strings delineating their lines gracefully, the woodwinds with characteristic OSM sound, and Mälkki entirely complicit in the setup that Mozart so leisurely and teasingly devised. Cope, the orchestra’s principal clarinet and clearly a hometown favorite, took the elements of flirtation and raised them to more serious levels. He added elaboration from time to time, timidly at first but then less reluctantly and more playfully, although he decided against doing anything at all during the long-held whole notes which seem to call out for action. He phrased the slurred lines spontaneously and affectingly, and he used the sudden bursts of energy to keep the momentum from flagging.
In the Adagio the horns were so romantically and softly in tune it was like a Weber overture, and the flutes played even more sweetly. One noted the strength with which Mälkki moved the willing orchestra before the clarinet’s hesitation, and then Cope letting his tone last an extra few, deeply affecting seconds after the orchestra had stopped. The Rondo was one of those irresistible affairs in which Cope had fun with the jolly tune each time it came around, sailed through the lovely lachrymose minor key interludes and finished so triumphantly that he was rewarded with two minutes of applause from the socially-distanced, masked audience.
Strauss’s audiophile orchestral suite has been a Montréal specialty at least since similarly-reduced OSM forces recorded it in 1995, and it was not surprising that the music seemed to play itself – which is what you want unless the conductor is particularly persnickety or perverse. No problem. As she did in the Mozart, Mälkki sorted out all the strands in the music and freed the countless solo riffs to play out their colorful roles in the imagined drama without being subsumed to a conductor’s interpretation.
Concertmaster Andrew Wan nailed all his big solos while adding delicious portamento in unexpected places, and the OSM principals were at the top of their brilliant, suave form, including cellist Anna Burden, passionate in the composer’s reminiscence of Don Quixote. They transformed what is so often the sausage and potatoes Der Bűrger als Edelmann into an irresistibly charming Le bourgeois gentilhomme.