TORONTO CONCERT REVIEWS

Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​

Jazz pianist Hilario Durán; Photo credit: Ines Kaiser

Celebrating Nat “King” Cole’s 100th

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON March 24th 2019

Don Giovanni, or the Dissolute Man Punished: Southern Ontario Lyric Opera performs Mozart’s ‘comic tragedy’

Lafayette and Saguenay String Quartets; Photo credit: Christian Rouleau

The audience at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre were treated to a very good performance of Mozart’s stirring opera yesterday. The house was full. The singers performed beautifully. The orchestra, under the baton of Sabatino Vacca (who also played the continuo parts, the original playbill having specified Mozart ‘at the keyboard’) also played its part well.


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Cast of Southern Ontario's Lyric Opera performs Don Giovanni
Photo credit: SOLO 

Finalists of Glenn Gould School’s Concerto Competition: Jean-Luc Therrien, Yu Kai Sun, Mansur Kadirov, Hillary Simms, Zuri Wells, Benjamin Albertson and Godwin Friesen

Yesterday’s Invesco Piano Series concert at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall featured the award-winning pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin. The program notes described him as “one of the most important pianists of his generation”. There weren’t many in the audience who would disagree following the solo program of Schumann and Chopin. The well-chosen music by the 29-year-old pianist from Montréal was performed with supreme artistry and brilliant virtuosity.


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It was a very special night last night at the home of Marko Duic and Gabriel Lau in their Music @100 concert. The ambiance of a beautiful room lined in bookshelves, stunning art, a working fireplace with the crackling sounds of burning wood, and the plush seating on comfortable sofas contributed to the intimate atmosphere for the twenty or so in the audience, but it was the superb playing by student musicians that created the singular experience. I wouldn’t ordinarily write about a house concert with a small audience. However, this concert was so moving that I can’t let it pass without expressing how deeply heart-rending it was..


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​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  January 18th 2019

​​Review by  Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
T
oronto ON  February 22nd 2019

Barbara Hannigan and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  February 10th 2019

Glenn Gould School’s The Magic Flute hits all the right buttons!

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  February 4th 2019

​​Review by  Jeff Mitchell
T
oronto ON  February 15th 2019

Cahal Masterson, a gifted young pianist of growing reputation from Belfast, Northern Ireland, has released his first album entitled Transition. It is a compilation of uplifting piano repertoire encompassing music by Liszt, Messiaen, Haydn, Fauré and Bartók. The title is symbolic of his own transition from student to professional performing artist. Cahal is an artist worthy of attention and the CD is a poetic expression of his rare musicianship. The sensuousness in his playing is always within the context of the music’s logic.


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​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  February 21st 2019

Students of the Glenn Gould School give remarkable performances previewing the 2019/20 season of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra

Hilario Durán​

The pianistic artistry of Charles Richard-Hamelin shines in Schumann and Chopin!​

It was a miserable night to trudge downtown. The six or more inches of snow and slush was enough to discourage many from heading out. By mid-afternoon in Oakville when I learned that the GO trains would be cancelled for several hours, my own attendance was put in doubt. But for those of us who did brave the weather to St. Andrew’s Church, The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and their Interim Music Director David Fallis made it more than worth our effort with a celebration of Haydn and Handel.


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Pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin, ready to sign copies of his new CD following his Koerner Hall performance

Cahal Masterson: Transition ​- CD review

​​Review by  Paul Merkley FRSC
T
oronto ON March 3rd 2019

House concert provides a special musical treat with outstanding student performers!

Last night at Roy Thomson Hall, Barbara Hannigan, the singing maestro, performed as only she can. She led the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in a concert displaying her adeptness as both a coloratura soprano and conductor. While one might expect the Tafelmusik Orchestra to perform with the first violinist directing the group, it felt strange in last night’s eclectic program for a singer/conductor to appear as one person. Nevertheless, Hannigan took control of the orchestra and injected her magnetism to create an evening that much of the audience found spectacular. The Gershwin medley that ended the program sent the audience home singing.


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The winter season of the Canadian Opera Company continued last night with a revival of Atom Egoyan’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Four Seasons Centre. After a run of annual Mozart operas, this will be the last for a bit anyway. Next season’s schedule won’t be including anything by the 18th century master. It will feature operas by Puccini, Dvořák, Rossini, Humperdinck, Verdi and Wagner. 


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Koerner Hall’s 10th Anniversary season, sponsored by BMO Financial and the Toronto Star, continued on Saturday, February 9th with the first TD Jazz series concert, co-sponsored by JazzFM 91, featuring Cuban-Canadian pianist, composer and arranger Hilario Durán and his Latin Jazz Big Band. Durán, who has performed many times at Koerner Hall, referred to this as his “dream concert”, given that his 18-piece band was made up of the crème-de-la-crème of the Canadian jazz scene, including many born and bred in Canada and others born in Cuba but, like Durán, having established...


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COC brings a sparkling Canadian flair to Così fan tutte​

​​Review by  Jeff Mitchell
T
oronto ON  February 9th 2019

Toronto Symphony Orchestra probes the depths of longing and hope with conductor Thomas Dausgaard and cellist Alisa Weilerstein

I spent the day yesterday at Koerner Hall listening to the finals of the Glenn Gould School’s Concerto Competition. Each year about this time, the Royal Conservatory of Music’s professional training school offers its students an opportunity to perform a concerto with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra by holding this competition. Yesterday, seven finalists performed throughout the day. Only four of these seven will have an opportunity to perform with the orchestra during Koerner Hall’s 2019/20 concert season.


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Cahal Masterson-  Transition; Photo credit: William DeVizia 

Canadian Opera Company’s Elektra: a triumph of dramatic intensity! 

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Conductor David Fallis, soloists and orchestra
Photo credit: Brian Summers 

Noah Grove as Papageno and Zachary Rioux as Tamino in Glenn Gould School’s Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute 
Photo credit: Nicola Betts

Deutsche Grammophon recording artist Jan Lisiecki; Photo credit: Christoph Köstlin

Pinchas Zukerman plays Mozart; Photo credit: @ Jag Gundu

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir's Handel and Haydn celebration lifts the spirits on a blustery winter's night!

I have seen three Magic Flutes in the past two years and each one has been a very satisfying experience, albeit very different. There was the 2017 production by the COC that was conceived as a play within a play to help the audience suspend disbelief in the improbable storyline with a three-headed serpent killed mysteriously by three ladies in black robes. Then, just a few months ago at the Met, there was a remarkable production with Papageno dressed in a green bird-cage costume, three spirits transported through the air on the back of a huge bird and three ladies hiding behind their masks, all clearly designed to appeal to audiences of all ages. Both productions were spectacles of lavish embellishment, as impressive for costumes and sets as for their impeccable musical values.


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The Angel Speaks: Opera Atelier turns the clock back (and forward!) for old and new music and dance

John Pizzarelli and Freddy Cole at Koerner Hall
Photo credit: Lisa Sakulensky, courtesy of The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall 

Opera Atelier is one of Canada’s foremost cultural ambassadors. This year artistic co-directors Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg and Marshall Pynkoski, both recently and justly named to the Order of Canada, have taken their company, which specializes in the authentic period reconstruction of Baroque opera, to Chicago and Versailles. Previously, I have described the great care the company takes in blocking, movement, and the rare art of Baroque expressive gestures, the gesto parlante that accompanies the libretto. Dance is correctly at the heart of their work, because dance is at the heart of Baroque opera, especially French baroque opera.


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Music Toronto hosts Octets: the Lafayette and Saguenay String Quartets

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  January 31st 2019

Jan Lisiecki delivers the dark side of Romanticism in a soulful performance

There wasn’t an empty seat in Koerner Hall yesterday afternoon for the Invesco Piano Series concert featuring the twenty-three-year-old Canadian phenom, pianist Jan Lisiecki. In the introductory comments, Mervin Mehta, The Royal Conservatory’s Executive Director of Performing Arts, said that the hall had never been as full in its ten-year existence. Indeed, the piano was surrounded by extra seating on stage to accommodate the overflow. 


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​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  January 24th 2019

​​Review by  Paul Merkley FRSC
T
oronto ON March 14th 2019

Artists of Atelier Ballet Mireille Asselin, Jesse Blumberg, members of Tafelmusik
Photo credit: Bruce Zinger

Barbara Hannigan and the Toronto Symphony turn Valentines Day upside down!

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON March 4th 2019

East and West met, joined forces, and the result was harmonious as the Lafayette String Quartet (based in the University of Victoria) and the Saguenay String Quartet (from Chicoutimi) played string octets together last night in Music Toronto’s great Chamber Music Downtown concert series at the Jane Mallett Theatre of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.


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With love in the air on Valentine’s Day, Koerner Hall paid homage to the unforgettable Nat “King” Cole on the occasion of his 100th birthday by featuring his youngest brother, pianist Freddy Cole, and the supremely talented guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli.  It was an evening of beautiful jazz music and a celebration of song that stands out as a highlight of Koerner Hall’s 10th Anniversary season, sponsored by BMO Financial and the Toronto Star, as well as series sponsors TD Jazz and JazzFM 91.  The fact that Cole and Pizzarelli could perform 23 songs over two and a half hours without playing such immortal standards as “Unforgettable”, “Mona Lisa”, “When I Fall in Love” or “Smile” is a testament to the breadth and timeless quality of the Nat “King” Cole” songbook and the enduring popularity of a man who did more in his short life to bridge the divide between jazz and popular music than any other musician of the 20th century.


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Pinchas Zukerman leads the Toronto Symphony in a brilliant all-Mozart performance!

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  February 15th 2019

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  February 28th 2019

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON  February 6th 2019

A scene in the Canadian Opera Company’s Production of Elektra (2019)
​Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Have you ever felt uncontrollable fury? Have you ever felt so deceived by a family member such that it was seemingly impossible to let go of the bitterness? Before letting the betrayal eat you up until you are obsessed with revenge, perhaps you should go quickly to the opera currently playing at the Four Season’s Centre, the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Elektra


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A scene from the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Così fan tutti (2019)
Photo credit: Michael Cooper

It seemed very fitting last night to be attending an all-Mozart concert of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. For fourteen years, under former Music Director Peter Oundjian, the TSO held a Mozart Festival in honour of the composer’s January birthday. This year would have been Mozart 263 (263 years since Mozart’s birth in 1756) Alas, along with Oundjian’s departure in June of last year, the Festival also came to an end. And so it was with more than a little nostalgia that last night’s concert brought back fond memories. Just last year, Bernard Labadie conducted riveting performances with violinist Adrian Anantawan and pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin. The year before it was pianist Emmanuel Ax performing two Mozart piano concertos. This year’s concert proved no less compelling.


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Last night at Roy Thomson Hall, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra with conductor Thomas Dausgaard and cellist Alisa Weilerstein probed the depths of longing, despondency and ultimately hope in the music of Shostakovich, Bartók and the Danish post-romantic composer, Rued Langgaard. With little expectation on my part, never having heard either the Langgaard or the Shostakovich works, the concert turned into perhaps the most satisfying of the TSO season.


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Matthew Christakos, Charissa Vandikas, Royce Rich and Leslie Ashworth

​​Review by  David Richards
T
oronto ON March 4th 2019

Alisa Weilerstein, Thomas Dausgaard and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Photo credit: Jag Gundu