One per season is the diet of Bruckner Symphonies recommended by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Last night in Place des Arts we heard the Third under the direction of Yoav Talmi, the same maestro from Quebec City who gave us a Fourth in January 2000.
And from the same maestro came the same balance of clarity and sentiment that distinguished the earlier performance. The steely fortissimos of the first movement were answered by sunny Austrian melodies that generated a curious tension of their own. What will prevail? The tragic impulse or the visionary? The genius of Bruckner is that he creates such profound doubt in the listener.
Of course, the success of a Bruckner performance is due as much to technical particulars as thoughtful generalities. By keeping the opening pizzicati in the lower strings light and crisp, Talmi (conducting from memory) established momentum in Scherzo before the thunderbolts began to fall. He also gauged the long crescendos of the Adagio exactly, eliciting a lucid tone from the strings.
Lucidity is not the same as warmth, and one missed occasionally the richness of a five-star Austro-German violin section. Brass playing also sometimes sounded bright and alert where dark and mysterious were the desired qualities. Horn intonation, however, was outstanding and the overall level of performance was high. The great sunburst at the end of the finale, when the opening theme returns, could hardly have been more thrilling.
My one serious complaint regarded not Talmi's interpretation but the conventional 1889 edition he used. Conductors have long assumed that this cut but authorized version is the best of a bad lot. But the first version of 1873 (which could easily have added 20 minutes to yesterday's timing of 53 minutes) is really the fullest realization of Bruckner's inspiration. Perhaps the MSO will get around to it in the 2020s.
The program began with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 in a disagreeably slow and precious performance by the Frenchman Michel Dalberto. Talmi led a reduced orchestra, but the phrasing conveyed the same feeling of overabundant legato. Mozart is divine enough without these sycophantic attentions.