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La Maison symphonique
and Salle Bourgie will serve different musical needs for the most part,
but each one will dramatically change the way concerts are presented
and enjoyed in Montreal for at least a generation.
La Maison Symphonique
The Orchestre symphonique de Montréal has been internationally
recognized for its achievements on recordings. But at home its beauty
of sound and the virtuosity of its players have been emasculated by
the inadequacies of the Salle Wilfred Pelletier in Place des Arts. Now
at last the orchestra has a much smaller and more sympathetic space
in which to make music. La Maison symphonique de Montréal is as yet
unfinished in many respects but the acoustical space has now been in
use for two months and the preliminary impressions are largely positive.
Having attended most
of the best halls in the world—the Musikverein in Vienna, Symphony
Hall, Boston and Carnegie Hall, New York—I doubt that the Maison symphonique
is in that class. But after experiencing three concerts in music for
both very small and very large ensembles, from the Classical Period
to the present, from three different parts of the OSM’s new hall—I
can safely say that it is very good indeed. I have a serious aversion
to hearing soloists or small groups in large halls—that has more to
do with greed than music—and I hope that La Maison symphonique will
concentrate on presenting large orchestras such as the OSM and the Orchestre
Métropolitain. But one of the most satisfying performances I have heard
so far was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Till Fellner
as soloist and Kent Nagano conducting a reduced OSM. The string sound
was warm and resonant and the music had both blend and clarity.
At the other end
of the dynamic spectrum, Messiaen’s Turangalîla was extremely
loud and sometimes had a hard edge from the top balcony. But even at
that distance the music had presence and clarity.
Salle Bourgie is in an 1894 heritage church (the former Erskine
and American Church) across the street from the main museum buildings.
Much of the space has been converted to galleries but the nave where
services were held is now a 444-seat concert hall. Many of the stained
glass windows have been retained and the overall ambience is warm and
peaceful. The acoustics are also warm and involving. At least they were
on the night Anton Kuerti gave an all-Beethoven recital. Initially,
the sound seemed a little mushy but this density soon became a virtue.
In Kuerti’s hands the Diabelli Variations had an infinite range of
colours. And while Kuerti is a forceful player, the hall handled the
strongest fortissimos with ease. This was a great evening of music-making,
enhanced by a wonderful architectural and acoustic setting.