Skip to main content

Pianist Jan Lisiecki quickly makes you forget how old - or young - he is.

L'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal

  • Roberto Minczuk, conductor
  • Jan Lisiecki, piano
  • At Place des Arts in Montreal on Tuesday

The buzz around the city, at least in those circles that chatter about classical music, was considerable. Jan Lisiecki's name seemed to be all over the CBC and Radio-Canada in the days leading up to the concert. The Alberta-born Grand Prize winner of the 2009 OSM Standard Life Competition was coming to town to pick up part of his prize: a recital with L'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier simulcast coast to coast on Radio-Canada's Espace Musique .

It should have been a sell-out crowd. Perhaps it was the midwinter blahs or the fact that you could listen to the concert at home, but there were plenty of empty seats. Foolish people. Yes, Lisiecki is only 14 and you will probably have a lifetime of opportunity to catch him play, but his performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 , was extraordinary.

He's a lanky lad with blond, tousled hair who just for an instant seems out of place surrounded by musicians who could easily be his parents or grandparents as he lopes to the concert grand piano. Yet, as soon as he takes his place on the bench, he's there, in the moment, and you forget how old he is.

Chopin is clearly his thing. You can kind of understand why one reviewer dubbed Lisiecki "an aristocrat of the piano," but that seems too precious. He is a masterful player who gives an elegant, intelligent and seemingly effortless reading of the work, a piece he performed to rave reviews in Warsaw in 2009.

L'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal was under the direction of Roberto Minczuk, who has Alberta connections of his own. He's the music director of the Calgary Philharmonic. There was a comfortable complicity between soloist and conductor, and the orchestra was in fine shape with some particularly lovely subtle colours from the winds.

The first movement of the E minor concerto, composed in 1830, is a long affair with an interesting structure of three themes that are introduced by the orchestra and taken up and embellished by the piano. Lisiecki's approach to the work is rooted in a refined classicism that makes him intensely interesting to hear. The second movement, more romantic and brooding, was played with a sublime restraint that is released in the more exuberant final movement.

Of course, the crowd was over-the-top enthusiastic in its response and then, suddenly, Lisiecki was a teenager again. He bounded up from the bench, gave a quick formal bow and then grabbed Minczuk in great hug and beamed across the orchestra. After countless curtain calls, he performed a stunning Chopin Étude as his encore.

The concert began with yet another Albertan contribution, the young Andrew Staniland's Two Movements for Orchestra , composed in 2002 when he was 25. It's a piece with really interesting colour and chord shifts. Yet it also seems to be a bit of a study of mid-20th-century orchestral language and somewhat of an odd choice as a concert opener.

After the intermission, the orchestra performed a stately Symphony No. 104 in D major, "London", Hob 1/104 by Haydn and closed with Richard Strauss's Suite from Der RosenKavalier, Op. 59 . The OSM is a master of RosenKavalier and Tuesday's performance was grand, though the opening prelude seemed rather rushed. It all came together, though, with excellent sound from the oboe and horn.

Special to The Globe and Mail