Danse Macabre; Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal; Kent Nagano

This is the second album in a renewed partnership between Montreal's famous orchestra and Decca Records.

Although I have lived in Toronto, London and Victoria since, Montreal's my beloved hometown. The spectacular (and snowy) city is hard to remove from your DNA, even if you wanted. Montrealers don't. Some of my musical education was in Montreal. I have a lot of friends in the orchestra past and present. 

During a guest conducting visit a few years ago, there was lots of talk about the orchestra and Nagano gossip over smoked meat lunches. Typically, after a honeymoon period, some folks were blaming the boss for some poor notices. What a surprise. 

That said, this recording, echoing back to the 70s Dutoit/St. Eustache releases on Decca by the MSO (OSM if you live in the Quebec borders!) finds the orchestra in fine fettle. It doesn't have the swagger many of those incredibly good recordings have, but the program is very well played and recorded in its new hall, the Maison Symphonique de Montréal.

Home of this new Decca recording, the Maison Symphonique de Montréal.

Home of this new Decca recording, the Maison Symphonique de Montréal.

The spooky program (recorded at a series of Halloween concerts) begins with Dukas' The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, made famous as used in Disney's Fantasia. It's a brilliant work, incredibly difficult to play. I remember playing it in one session in London. The conductor told us during one problematic passage, 'don't worry, I just conducted it with the LSO; they couldn't play it, either!'.  The OSM eat it up and provide a wonderful, colourful performance. Same for Dvořák's rarely played and dramatic The Noonday Witch. Of course, Night on Bare Mountain is included and receives a crackerjack performance, full of fire and brimstone. Rimsky's orchestration.

The title work is a straight interpretation, the work is so well constructed and orchestrated it almost plays itself. Much more rare is Balakirev's Tamara. It exudes Russian fairytale orchestration, with a dreamy opening in winds over restless string figures. Something bad's gonna happen. It does later over very turbulent 12/8 figures. Lots of interesting syncopation and yearning string melodies. It's a very good piece, probably never to be heard on the Montreal stage again. Good for us we have this splendid recording. 

Kent Nagano. 

Kent Nagano. 

There'll be the obvious comparisons drawn with OSM recordings of old. What was it Edward Greenfield in Gramophone said, 'the greatest French orchestra in the world, no matter what they think in Paris'. Odd, as most of the orchestra was made up of Americans.  

The griping about Nagano may be accurate, but through his efforts, the orchestra now has a wonderful hall (the hall under Dutoit was awful -- Salle Wilfred Pelletier), is playing well, has fine soloists and now a Decca contract. Good times in Montreal.  

DANSE MACABRE

Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre. Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Dvořák: The Noonday Witch. Mussorgsky Rimsky-Korsakov: Night on the Bare Mountain. Balakirev: Tamara. Ives: Hallowe’en.

Decca 483 0396

Total Time: 69:26

Recorded live 29-30 October 2015, Maison Symphonique de Montréal, Canada