Over a year ago, the executives at Analekta Records approached Andrew Wan, concertmaster of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, to help them spearhead a three-year, three-album initiative that would focus a spotlight on OSM musicians in a chamber music setting.
Beethoven, Strauss, streaming in the player to your left until its Jan. 19 release, is the first album in this exciting new series from the OSM Soloists. It contains two works: Beethoven's Septet, Op. 20, and Till Eulenspiegel einmal anders, an arrangement by Franz Hasenöhrl of Strauss's Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche for violin, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Scroll down for the full roster.
"The idea of recording the Beethoven Septet was [Analekta president] Mario Labbé's, and I immediately agreed," Wan tells us. "It highlights three different instrument families and is just an absolutely beautiful work through and through."
The work has a prominent part for the clarinet, played on this occasion by the OSM's principal clarinettist, Todd Cope, a relative newcomer to the orchestra.
"Todd has quickly become one of our young stars in the OSM," enthuses Wan. "A Texan who has come to embrace our unique weather, he has a great pedigree having studied at the Colburn School and having held jobs with the Vancouver Symphony and the New World Symphony. He happens to be one of my good friends and he and our fantastic principal bassoonist Stéphane Levesque (also on the album) live blocks away from me, which can make for a pretty fun occasional post-concert/rehearsal routine of walking or driving home."
The camaraderie among the musicians in this group no doubt contributes to its meticulous phrasing and intrinsic blend.
Wan feels Hasenöhrl's pared-down version of Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel successfully highlights the virtuosic and comedic elements that make the original a staple of the orchestral repertoire.
But did the musicians miss the presence of a conductor in this quintet arrangement? "Logistically, yes, there are plenty of things that are more difficult without a conductor, especially the confounding famous horn and clarinet introduction. That being said, everyone loved the challenge of distilling this tone poem into a compact, action-packed version. I think it works pretty well and I knew we did fine since the elder statesman of the group, our beloved principal horn John Zirbel — who sounds ridiculously good on this album — told me he liked it."
The next album in this series, to be released in the fall, will feature Schubert's Octet, which the OSM Soloists have performed multiple times over the years, including a concert at the Edinburgh Festival in 2011. "I can't tell you yet what the third album will be, but I love the idea of recording works that involve as many instrument families as possible," speculates Wan.
"Having the freedom to select the repertoire for the third and final album is equal parts blessing and curse. I obviously want to showcase all the world-class talent we have in our band, but whichever way we slice it, lots of instruments, players and repertoire will have to be left out, which is an absolute shame. Hopefully we can gain enough traction with regards to audience appreciation to convince Analekta to let us record a few more discs!"
The OSM Soloists' Beethoven, Strauss will be released on Jan. 19. Pre-order it here.
The OSM Soloists will perform Beethoven's Septet at Bourgie Hall in Montreal on Jan. 26. Details here.
Andrew Wan, violin
Neal Gripp, viola
Brian Manker, cello
Ali Yazdanfar, double bass
Todd Cope, clarinet
Stéphane Lévesque, bassoon
John Zirbel, horn
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Duos to Nonets, Boccherini and Beethoven to Ravel and Brahms....all performed by the great collaborators of our time. The rich and intimate world of classical music for small ensembles. Hear: Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonin Dvorak, Maurice Ravel