Canadian classical ensemble Orchestre Metropolitain, conducted by Walter Boudreau, performs works by five contemporary composers on this reissue of their second recording. The featured pieces all originally appeared on the opening concert of the 1990 Festival Musiques Montreal Actuelle
. Despite the composers' disparate styles, they share certain affinities, most notably colorful instrumental writing and a strong dramatic thrust.
Elan, by Linda Bouchard, is an effective curtain-raiser, filled with passages of bustling, motoric activity, sometimes mimicking industrial and traffic noise. The liner notes suggest that it's an evocation of Bouchard's decade-long sojourn in New York City; it counts composers as disparate as Antheil, Varese and Stravinsky as touchstones. A L'Aventure, by Denis Gougeon, features an opening section with dancing rhythmic ostinati, offset by powerful, polytonal stacks of harmony. After a more ruminative middle section, the stacked chords and dancing rhythms return, this time charged with a more furious demeanor.
Brian Cherney's Transfiguration is the most substantial work on the program. The piece charts the journey of an embattled soul away from earthly strife and toward heaven. Its muscular scoring combines modern orchestral techniques with evocations of late Romanticism. It also includes a brief quote from earlier in the Nineteenth Century: Schubert's Death and the Maiden. Boudreau's own Berliner Momente also quotes material from the German Romantic repertory, but this time, there is a programmatic reason for including snippets from Wagner's Siegfried and Haydn's Austrian hymn: the piece was written to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the founding of the city of Berlin. In this postmodern pastiche, Boudreau musically depicts key events from the city's history, ending on a negative note (literally) with the Cold War; if only the piece had been commissioned a few years later, its tone might have been altogether different.
The recording's highlight is its last work, Orion, by the late composer Claude Vivier. Orion is a series of variations on a theme that contains seven short motives -- one for each of the stars in the constellation Orion. Vivier's orchestration is deftly colorful, while his harmonies are piquant, pantonal creations. However, Orion is perhaps most impressive for its boldly straightforward and memorable melodic writing.
Orchestre Metropolitain 2 may be fifteen years old, but its assortment of inventive compositions help keep it eminently fresh and engaging.