A breath of fresh music-making from Quebec
Toronto Star, April 10, 2003
William Littler


OSQ & Talmi on their Canadian Tour

Canada's orchestral success stories of the moment? Ottawa's National Arts Centre Orchestra happens to be one of them. The other paid its first visit to Roy Thomson Hall in 13 years last night at the conclusion of a 100th anniversary national tour. Player for player, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra certainly isn't an ensemble in the same class as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, but it taught our orchestra a lesson on this occasion in the difference between playing music and making music.

The difference has to do with engagement. I experienced it last month in the Quebec orchestra's home hall in an exciting performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major and I experienced it again last night in an equally exciting and even more polished performance of Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 in G Major.

When Yoav Talmi gave the downbeat, his players responded with a sense of urgency often missing in the performances of many fine orchestras. It wasn't just that his players played well, they played with an expressive impulse that drew the listener into the music-making.

Our audience could sense the difference. There was an extra attentiveness throughout the concert and especially in response to the Dvorak. If anyone wonders what the secret is to drawing people back to symphony concerts, it is surely performances such as this. Small wonder Quebec is one of two Canadian cities (Ottawa being the other) in which symphonic subscription audiences continue to grow regularly.

No end-of-tour fatigue seemed to affect the orchestra. The brasses provided a solid foundation to the overall sonority, the winds performed as a real section, not simply as a collection of individuals, and the strings bowed with a unanimity that consistently produced homogeneous, clearly defined sectional playing.

As solid an orchestra as Quebec's was 13 years ago under Simon Streatfield, Talmi, now in his fourth season as music director, has brought it to a new level of accomplishment. Moreover, he is obviously an interesting interpretive musician in his own right. His accompaniment to Brandon-born James Ehnes's eloquent performance of Saint-Saens' Violin Concerto No. 3 in B Minor was sensitively judged, with a greater variety of dynamics than one often encounters in concerto accompaniments. And when Ehnes, encouraged by the audience, offered as an encore a silvery pure-toned and blessedly unsentimental reading of the "Meditation" from Massenet's opera Thais, he could hardly have asked for more carefully measured orchestral support.