Pianist Luca Buratto, RBC Resident Conductor Earl Lee and TSO

Photo Credit: Arkan Zakharov

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Saturday evening concert could have been billed as an Italian festival. The red green and white flags weren’t bedecked throughout the hall and gelato was not being sold in the concession stands but the musical party that took place had all the trappings of Rome, Venice, and Milan. The concert was a showcase of Italian spirit as the TSO's energetic RBC Resident Conductor Earl Lee led the orchestra through a potpouree of classical gems. 

Before the Italian festivities began, a Sesqui for Canada’s 150th opened the program. Entitled Entwined, this two-minute work by Colin Labadie was co-commissioned by the TSO and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra to celebrate Canada's important anniversary. The work interlaced motives that evoked both European and Indigenous influences. Labadie explained that it is important to “acknowledge the darker parts of our past”.

Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to the 1813 opera L’Italiana in Algeri got the concert into the Italian spirit with wit and liveliness. The opera, first produced in Venice, is a dramma giocoso, a nineteenth century version if you like of an episode of This Hour Has 22 Minutes spoofing Justin Trudeau. The slow introduction with the striking oboe solo soon gave way to the main theme with piccolo and oboe leading prominently. By the end, the overture had the speed of a jet charging down a runway getting ready for take-off. Oboist Sarah Jeffrey and Camille Watts on piccolo were both excellent as always in their solos.

​​What followed was Mozart’s tuneful Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503. The Italian theme might not have extended into this work had it not been for the soloist. Mozart wrote the concerto in late 1786 while preparing for a trip to Paris and London (not Italy). However, the soloist, Luca Buratto hails from Milan, and is captivating the hearts of the musical world with his fluid pianistic style. His virtuosity and artistic integrity were evident in every phrase. The cadenza, arranged by Buratto himself, was breathtakingly beautiful. One sensed throughout that he was in a chamber music performance always in touch with Lee’s direction and the nuances of the orchestra.

Buratto was the Laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition in 2015 at just 22 years of age. Since Honens was founded in 1991 in Calgary it has grown in stature to be one of the pre-eminent international piano competitions. The competition rigorously tests the pianists not only in solo and concerto repertoire, but also in a collaborative setting in its search for the complete artist. Buratto came away with the top prize of one hundred thousand dollars, a recording contract, and performance dates for solo recitals and concerto performances with major orchestras in Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia.

Last night was the third time I have had the occasion to hear Buratto in live performances. Each time there have been new revelations about his artistry. He is equally at home with the music of Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Debussy. His special affinity for Schumann is clear in his newly released recording of three Schumann works on the Hyperion label.

Following intermission, there was yet another reference to Italy. Felix Mendelssohn was inspired by the sights and warmth of the country during his visit in 1831. He wrote his Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 “Italian” upon his return to Germany, and never satisfied, continued editing it until his death in 1847. The orchestra's performance of this cheerful and delightful music transported the audience to Rome with its carnivals, religious processionals, elegant renaissance palaces and street dancing. By the end of the energetically dramatic final movement, one was ready for a night out at a Roman piazza.

The TSO will now prepare for its upcoming tour of Israel and Europe. There will be two performances on May 2nd and May 3rd in Roy Thomson Hall that will preview the music they plan to perform overseas. These performances, each different, will include a TSO commission by Jordan Pal, Schumann’s Piano Concerto Op. 54 with Jan Lisiecki, and works by Bartok, Rimsky-Korsakov, Boulez and Morawetz. Peter Oundjian will be on the podium for both concerts.

As for Luca Buratto, he will be returning to Toronto for a solo concert in early October at the Four Seasons Centre in the COC’s Noonhour Concert Series. In addition to his many concerto performances next season, Buratto is looking forward to his Carnegie Hall solo debut on October 11th, 2017.

RBC Resident Conductor Earl Lee and TSO; Photo Credit: Arkan Zakharov

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON April 24 2017

Toronto Symphony concert an Italian festival!


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