Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
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Last night’s concert by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall was a reminder once again of how fortunate we in Toronto are to have such an exemplary orchestra. Superb soloists hold each of the principal chairs. The orchestra can display the full range of colours found in the music of Mahler and play a sensitive, supportive role in a concerto as it did last night. In just the past month, the TSO has accompanied the screening of Raiders of the Lost Arc and held its own annual New Creations Festival. The Toronto Symphony has performed the music of Beethoven, Sibelius, Debussy and Mahler along side of new music it has commissioned. In that same span, the orchestra has been conducted by its own Music Director, Peter Oundjian as well as international guest conductors from Finland, Germany, USA and Denmark and has featured internationally acclaimed soloists.
The Danish guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard and TSO Principal Cellist Joseph Johnson led the way last night in a program that left one emotionally and musically fulfilled. The program demonstrated the flexibility of the orchestra to play as a trimmed down group of fifty musicians and to perform with the strength of its full roster of about one hundred.
The concert began with William Rowson’s Fanfare: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th. This energetic two-minute fanfare was co-commissioned by the TSO and the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra. It is a very accessible piece that contains snippets of ‘O Canada’ and builds to a climactic fanfare of celebration using the full complement of brass and percussion. It may well be one of few from the forty or so newly commissioned fanfares of the TSO’s Canada Mosaic that will have a life beyond its premiѐre. The composition certainly deserves one.
The main event of the first half of the concert was Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129. Soloist Joseph Johnson has been the Principal Cellist of the TSO since 2009 and has been heard as a soloist with the orchestra on several occasions. The beautiful tone of his Paolo Castello 1780 cello came through from the very beginning with the haunting melodic line of the opening bars. The lyrical beauty of the second movement’s ‘song without words’ was breathtakingly serene. Johnson is a superb musician who performs equally as a solo artist, chamber musician, orchestral performer and teacher. He was as adept in the virtuosic passages of the third movement as he was in spinning a romantic melody. The orchestra responded to his inspirational playing with a wonderful collaboration. Conductor Dausgaard hardly needed the score as he communicated clear directions to each section of the orchestra, exuding the heart and soul of the music with every gesture such that every member of the orchestra played with the utmost in confidence and thoughtfulness.
Following intermission came the monumental five-movement Symphony No. 10 by Gustav Mahler as completed by Deryck Cooke. Much has been written about the integrity of such a work being completed years after Mahler’s death. There have been many conductors who would not perform it. Notwithstanding the critics, the work's seventy-five minutes of music made time stand still for this listener. This was music of the first order, and under the superb leadership of Dausgaard, it mattered not who had done the orchestration. Dausgaard’s body language detailed the music’s meaning to each and every musician. He communicated the music’s flow as it meandered through each idea. The way that Dausgaard shaped the phrase of the opening wistful melody in the violas set the tone for the entire work. He found pianissimos that created virtual silence in the hall. The dramatic sounds of the brass and full orchestra were ever more powerful because of the enormous contrasts. The peaceful joy captured in the final moments of the symphony turned the sombre thoughts of death into a life-affirming testament. Dausgaard's great understanding of the work is well documented. His 2016 recording with the Seattle Symphony was hailed by BBC Music Magazine as an “orchestral classic”. Last night’s performance could be given a similar superlative.
Guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard and Principal Cellist Joseph Johnson lead the TSO in inspired performances of Schumann and Mahler!
Joseph Johnson, Thomas Dausgaard and TSO; Photo Credit: Jag Gundu
Guest Conductor Thomas Dausgaard; Photo Credit: Jag Gundu
The work was a showcase for the brilliance of the many soloists within the orchestra. Some examples included Principal Oboe Sarah Jeffrey in her sparkling melodies of the second movement; Principal Flute Nora Schulman with her evocative solo juxtaposed by the thunderous bass drum of John Rudolph; the high ‘A’ sustained for what seemed an eternity by Principal trumpet Andrew McCandless in the first movement and again in the finale; and numerous other solos including those by Principal Clarinet Joacquin Valdepeñas, Principal Horn Neil Deland and Concertmaster Jonathan Crow. For this work, Principal Cellist Joseph Johnson was back in his usual place leading the cellos. We are indeed fortunate to have the artistry of such superb musicians in the Toronto Symphony.
Last night’s program will be repeated this evening, April 7th 2017 at 7:30pm, albeit with a new opening “sesquie”. On April 12 at 8:00pm and April 13 at 2:00pm, Andrey Boreyko will lead the TSO in a performance of the music of Hatzis, Liszt and Brahms featuring pianist Lucas Debargue.
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON April 7 2017