A remarquable collaboration, a clear and coherent result

Alain Trudel was right to emphasize, at the beginning of the concert, the thematic links uniting the three works on the concert program: love and romanticism. Thus, between Tchaikovsky’s fantasy-overture Roméo and Juliette, which is well-known, and the piano concerto No. 4 by André Mathieu, permeated by Rachmaninoff’s predominant influence, comes En amour en hiver, a single-movement work lasting 25 minutes, elaborated by Tim Brady, and based on 6 poems by the well-known Québec author-composer Michel Rivard. These poems all revolve around different situations and amorous impressions experienced during winter. As Brady himself mentioned to the public, there is an arch-like dramaturgy underlying Rivard’s general theme: the narrator first observes love from his own perspective as a 60-years-old, and then initiates, during the first three poems, a flashback bringing him all the way back to adolescence, to this first love which is the topic of the 4th poem, a slow movement at the center of the work, after which the following 2 texts come full circle, the last poem reiterating snatches from the first one. Far from the rhymes of Beau Dommage or Rivard himself, these prose poems, transcribed in the concert program, are made of short phrases which, sometimes symmetrically reiterated, juxtapose images, narrate simple stories, delve into an emotion, or sketch the landscape of love from a soul in winter.

As a staunch Montrealer, I wasn’t acquainted with the André-Mathieu hall. Tchaikovsky’s work allowed one to immediately take in the acoustic qualities of the hall, relatively dry and prone to reveal the slightest faults. It is probably a far cry from the reverberating acoustic of Russian halls, in which this Overture was performed… This has allowed me to appreciate the degree of control and coherence displayed by the musicians under the conductor’s baton. At the other end of the program, the extremely powerful and sonorous piano of Alain Lefebvre, emphasized by Mathieu’s exuberant pianistic writing, offered by its dialogue with the orchestra quite another sonorous image. According to Brady himself, now in his third year of a four-year residency with the OSL, the orchestration of some passages of the work was custom-made for this acoustic. Indeed, the succession of terraced harmonies in the slow section of the work constitutes a highly successful reverberation, conveying breadth to the whole passage. It is probably those acoustic circumstances that have justified the discreet amplification of Michael Donovan’s voice.

Being unfortunately little acquainted with Brady’s extensive production (comprising roughly a hundred works!), I regret not being able to situate the work within the composer’s general approach, as I would like for all the Postludes for Cette ville étrange. Continuity? Exception? A typical realisation? From the few works that I recall to my memory, I remember having heard those textures, made of rhythmic ostinati and enlarged diatonic harmonies, close to some American “minimalists” such as John Adams or Steve Reich. By accepting those elements of language as presumed influences, one can thus focus our attention on the finesse of their use, intimately linked to the themes found in the text, particularly the musics of the 3rd and 5th poems. But to dwell on this musical inclination alone wouldn’t do justice to the entire musical landscape elaborated by Brady.

The parts devoted to the 1st and 2nd texts gradually lead to the first ostinato. The initial vocal recitative, which calmly utters its phrases on a slow sequence of harmonies on the strings, could evoke the wisdom acquired by the narrator confronted with love, which remains for him a source of warmth despite the reality of winter and old age. The sonorous space then gradually gives way to a more agitated music, overflowing to other instruments of the orchestra, under the guise of punctuations and short phrases sometimes haloed by bells. All this hesitant agitation blends well with the clearly outlined, interrogating strophes of the 2nd text. The forthcoming ostinato is already foreshadowed by the violas. When it comes, one can associate the image of a motionless journey (“je suis assis sur une valise”/”I sit on a suitcase”) with the continuous use of sixteenth-notes which nonetheless express a slow harmonic progression, like also the decision to repeat the short phrases, repeats which slow down the unfolding of the text. At the end of the 3rd text, a long orchestral “solo,” from which an alternation of timpani/brass stands out, naturally leads to the climax of the work.

The middle slow movement, whose terraced harmonies I evoked earlier, often leaves the voice singing alone, when it is not combined to a simple monody in the strings or a few pizzicato in the double-basses, a landscape of bare slowness that evokes the passage of the years, as one contemplates the intense and passionate moment of adolescent love. Or could it be the innocent poverty of this passion, retrospectively considered as such, with indulgence…?

In a symmetrical fashion, as the text returns to the present time, the work renews with the sixteenth-notes ostinato, in which this time ascending scales (4th poem) dominate and, at last, with the initial chords in the strings (5th poem): a music once again peaceful, polarized around a single pitch, as if the heart of the narrator had found its center.

Along the way, all sorts of details bear witness to Brady’s remarkable craftsmanship, and not only as regard orchestration. His attention to French prosody is remarkable, the latter which is very well served by the clear diction of Michael Donovan. Praises are here due to the two Anglophones, composer and performer, for their mastery. As regard the relationship between voice and orchestra, Brady here again demonstrates a keen desire for transparency: the orchestra wears thin, almost vanishing to let the voice shine through, helped elsewhere, in moments of great harmonic mobility, by those classical doublings of the melody by an instrument of the orchestra.

But it is primarily on the level of formal dramaturgy that I would like to praise both artists, Brady and Rivard, for their mutually beneficial relationship. From the very first hearing, the work can be heard as a clear and coherent musical and poetic arch, while being enriched with local details that can feed the imagination.

Let’s also underline the vision and faith showed by the artistic director of the OSL, Alain Trudel, who has dared to offer a prolonged residency to a local composer, affording him the possibility to write a significant work, of necessary scope and duration, and who has devoted sufficient work time and attention in order to come to a result that is convincing for the public! It is a far cry from former occasional “Canadian” commissions: a maximum duration of 10 minutes, which can be performed with less than an hour of rehearsal time… In a less limited context than the residency, many Québec composers, even amongst the younger ones, have already benefitted from the OSL’s attention. Let’s fervently hope that such an opening may continue, and that with such support, numerous other works will enrich our musical heritage. Let’s also hope that symphonic orchestras in Québec will ponder the lessons given by the OSL and Alain Trudel.

Michel Gonneville

October 2nd, 2010

As a post-script, I take advantage of this platform to express my perplexity concerning Mathieu’s 4th concerto, heard in the same concert in which Brady’s work was presented. I know very little of Mathieu’s work, the object of considerable attention lately. It was, in fact, the first work of his which I have listened to from start to finish. The concerto has mainly shown me to what extent this prodigious pianist could have assimilated the influences of some composers of his era. Contrary to his father, Rodolphe Mathieu, who in his later works was closer to more prospective composers such as Berg, André Mathieu, in his compositions, take his inspiration from Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Ravel, Scriabine, Prokofiev, all brilliant pianists anchored in the great romantic concerto tradition. Characteristic traits of their style are found here juxtaposed in a virtuosistic kaleidoscope to which Alain Lefebvre lends his technical mastery, his strength and dramatic sense. However, the few snippets I have been told concerning the genesis of this work have left me with lots of questions. One has praised the work of Gilles Bellemare in the reconstruction of this composition. However, honesty would command that one outlines in details the work done by Bellemare before attributing the credit of the work to Mathieu alone. Going beyond mere orchestration, what role has Gilles Bellemare played in reconstructing the form of the concerto, a reconstruction done, it seems, from a recording and some sketches left by an already weakened Mathieu? Should we not, in all fairness, speak of a Mathieu/Bellemare work? It seems to me that musicology, apart from any heated identity debate, should aim to clarify this point. The geniuses of each creator could then be recognized, without false shame or false glory, and monuments built in all honour to these real qualities.

MG
Alain Trudel was right to emphasize, at the beginning of the concert, the thematic links uniting the three works on the concert program: love and romanticism. Thus, between Tchaikovsky’s fantasy-overture Roméo and Juliette, which is well-known, and the piano concerto No. 4 by André Mathieu, permeated by Rachmaninoff’s predominant influence, comes En amour en hiver, a single-movement work lasting 25 minutes, elaborated by Tim Brady, and based on 6 poems by the well-known Québec author-composer Michel Rivard. These poems all revolve around different situations and amorous impressions experienced during winter. As Brady himself mentioned to the public, there is an arch-like dramaturgy underlying Rivard’s general theme: the narrator first observes love from his own perspective as a 60-years-old, and then initiates, during the first three poems, a flashback bringing him all the way back to adolescence, to this first love which is the topic of the 4th poem, a slow movement at the center of the work, after which the following 2 texts come full circle, the last poem reiterating snatches from the first one. Far from the rhymes of Beau Dommage or Rivard himself, these prose poems, transcribed in the concert program, are made of short phrases which, sometimes symmetrically reiterated, juxtapose images, narrate simple stories, delve into an emotion, or sketch the landscape of love from a soul in winter.

As a staunch Montrealer, I wasn’t acquainted with the André-Mathieu hall. Tchaikovsky’s work allowed one to immediately take in the acoustic qualities of the hall, relatively dry and prone to reveal the slightest faults. It is probably a far cry from the reverberating acoustic of Russian halls, in which this Overture was performed… This has allowed me to appreciate the degree of control and coherence displayed by the musicians under the conductor’s baton. At the other end of the program, the extremely powerful and sonorous piano of Alain Lefebvre, emphasized by Mathieu’s exuberant pianistic writing, offered by its dialogue with the orchestra quite another sonorous image. According to Brady himself, now in his third year of a four-year residency with the OSL, the orchestration of some passages of the work was custom-made for this acoustic. Indeed, the succession of terraced harmonies in the slow section of the work constitutes a highly successful reverberation, conveying breadth to the whole passage. It is probably those acoustic circumstances that have justified the discreet amplification of Michael Donovan’s voice.

Being unfortunately little acquainted with Brady’s extensive production (comprising roughly a hundred works!), I regret not being able to situate the work within the composer’s general approach, as I would like for all the Postludes for Cette ville étrange. Continuity? Exception? A typical realisation? From the few works that I recall to my memory, I remember having heard those textures, made of rhythmic ostinati and enlarged diatonic harmonies, close to some American “minimalists” such as John Adams or Steve Reich. By accepting those elements of language as presumed influences, one can thus focus our attention on the finesse of their use, intimately linked to the themes found in the text, particularly the musics of the 3rd and 5th poems. But to dwell on this musical inclination alone wouldn’t do justice to the entire musical landscape elaborated by Brady.

The parts devoted to the 1st and 2nd texts gradually lead to the first ostinato. The initial vocal recitative, which calmly utters its phrases on a slow sequence of harmonies on the strings, could evoke the wisdom acquired by the narrator confronted with love, which remains for him a source of warmth despite the reality of winter and old age. The sonorous space then gradually gives way to a more agitated music, overflowing to other instruments of the orchestra, under the guise of punctuations and short phrases sometimes haloed by bells. All this hesitant agitation blends well with the clearly outlined, interrogating strophes of the 2nd text. The forthcoming ostinato is already foreshadowed by the violas. When it comes, one can associate the image of a motionless journey (“je suis assis sur une valise”/”I sit on a suitcase”) with the continuous use of sixteenth-notes which nonetheless express a slow harmonic progression, like also the decision to repeat the short phrases, repeats which slow down the unfolding of the text. At the end of the 3rd text, a long orchestral “solo,” from which an alternation of timpani/brass stands out, naturally leads to the climax of the work.

The middle slow movement, whose terraced harmonies I evoked earlier, often leaves the voice singing alone, when it is not combined to a simple monody in the strings or a few pizzicato in the double-basses, a landscape of bare slowness that evokes the passage of the years, as one contemplates the intense and passionate moment of adolescent love. Or could it be the innocent poverty of this passion, retrospectively considered as such, with indulgence…?

In a symmetrical fashion, as the text returns to the present time, the work renews with the sixteenth-notes ostinato, in which this time ascending scales (4th poem) dominate and, at last, with the initial chords in the strings (5th poem): a music once again peaceful, polarized around a single pitch, as if the heart of the narrator had found its center.

Along the way, all sorts of details bear witness to Brady’s remarkable craftsmanship, and not only as regard orchestration. His attention to French prosody is remarkable, the latter which is very well served by the clear diction of Michael Donovan. Praises are here due to the two Anglophones, composer and performer, for their mastery. As regard the relationship between voice and orchestra, Brady here again demonstrates a keen desire for transparency: the orchestra wears thin, almost vanishing to let the voice shine through, helped elsewhere, in moments of great harmonic mobility, by those classical doublings of the melody by an instrument of the orchestra.

But it is primarily on the level of formal dramaturgy that I would like to praise both artists, Brady and Rivard, for their mutually beneficial relationship. From the very first hearing, the work can be heard as a clear and coherent musical and poetic arch, while being enriched with local details that can feed the imagination.

Let’s also underline the vision and faith showed by the artistic director of the OSL, Alain Trudel, who has dared to offer a prolonged residency to a local composer, affording him the possibility to write a significant work, of necessary scope and duration, and who has devoted sufficient work time and attention in order to come to a result that is convincing for the public! It is a far cry from former occasional “Canadian” commissions: a maximum duration of 10 minutes, which can be performed with less than an hour of rehearsal time… In a less limited context than the residency, many Québec composers, even amongst the younger ones, have already benefitted from the OSL’s attention. Let’s fervently hope that such an opening may continue, and that with such support, numerous other works will enrich our musical heritage. Let’s also hope that symphonic orchestras in Québec will ponder the lessons given by the OSL and Alain Trudel.

Michel Gonneville

October 2nd, 2010

As a post-script, I take advantage of this platform to express my perplexity concerning Mathieu’s 4th concerto, heard in the same concert in which Brady’s work was presented. I know very little of Mathieu’s work, the object of considerable attention lately. It was, in fact, the first work of his which I have listened to from start to finish. The concerto has mainly shown me to what extent this prodigious pianist could have assimilated the influences of some composers of his era. Contrary to his father, Rodolphe Mathieu, who in his later works was closer to more prospective composers such as Berg, André Mathieu, in his compositions, take his inspiration from Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Ravel, Scriabine, Prokofiev, all brilliant pianists anchored in the great romantic concerto tradition. Characteristic traits of their style are found here juxtaposed in a virtuosistic kaleidoscope to which Alain Lefebvre lends his technical mastery, his strength and dramatic sense. However, the few snippets I have been told concerning the genesis of this work have left me with lots of questions. One has praised the work of Gilles Bellemare in the reconstruction of this composition. However, honesty would command that one outlines in details the work done by Bellemare before attributing the credit of the work to Mathieu alone. Going beyond mere orchestration, what role has Gilles Bellemare played in reconstructing the form of the concerto, a reconstruction done, it seems, from a recording and some sketches left by an already weakened Mathieu? Should we not, in all fairness, speak of a Mathieu/Bellemare work? It seems to me that musicology, apart from any heated identity debate, should aim to clarify this point. The geniuses of each creator could then be recognized, without false shame or false glory, and monuments built in all honour to these real qualities.

MG

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