Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music
The Amadeus Choir & Elmer Iseler Singers, Stéphane Denѐve and TSO;
Photo credit: Jag Gundu
TSO teams up with Canadian international superstar composer, soloists and choirs to create sublime beauty!
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 3rd 2017
Baritone Russell Braun, Guest Conductor Stéphane Denѐve and TSO;
Photo credit: Jag Gundu
As our country reels in grief following the tragic killings in the Quebec mosque earlier this week, there has been a spirit of human oneness developing in the condolences, vigils, and spontaneous memorials that have cropped up right across Canada. The murderous act of hate didn’t happen to ‘them’; it happened to ‘us’.
It was entirely fitting and in many ways consoling last night to hear a program by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra that couldn’t help but lift one’s thoughts in the direction of all who are suffering. This was not intentional, of course. The program had been planned many months ago and was billed as Canadian Voices, Global Stage. It was meant to showcase Canadian artists making their mark internationally. Nevertheless, the thread that carried through each of the three works was a meditative reflection on life, death and eternity. It was fitting of the week!
The program opened with Canadian composer Samy Moussa’sA Globe Infolding for Organ and Orchestra. For me, the title references William Blake’s Milton in which Blake discusses his concept of the infinite and our relationship with eternity. As the organ ‘infolds’ into the orchestra, it is as if the individual becomes a part of eternity. With Montreal guest organist Jean-Willy Kunz, the work was a sublime and mysterious introduction to the concert’s theme. In ten minutes, we were taken on a journey from the beginnings of time to that time in future eternity in which we return to being one with the universe.
Brahms has a way of making the profound very personal. German composer Detlev Glanert, in his work Vier Präluden und ernste Gesänge, added four preludes and a postlude to Brahms’ Four Serious Songs Op. 121 and orchestrated them for baritone and orchestra. Our Canadian treasure of the operatic world, baritone Russell Braun gave the biblical texts an extraordinary depth of expression. Braun cried out, “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” in intense agony. Brahms may have been writing about the impending death of his long-time friend, Clara Schumann, but this listener was only thinking about this week’s victims. The last lines of the final Song, “and now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” gave real poignancy with a pianissimo that was scarcely audible. Guest conductor Stéphane Denѐve brilliantly brought out the drama in the orchestration and melded the music of Brahms and Glanert seamlessly.
Soprano Karina Gauvin; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Following intermission, the Amadeus Choir, the Elmer Iseler Singers, Canadian superstar soprano Karina Gauvin, and TSO violin soloist Mark Shazinetsky, joined Denѐve, Braun, Kunz and the TSO to give what for me was the most moving performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem Op. 48 that I have ever heard. Denѐve captured every nuance of beauty in this wonderful work. The choir was absolutely stunning in its range of expression and tonal purity. There was an expansiveness to the sound with the choir in the loft above the orchestra and with both Gauvin and Shazinetsky performing from the organ loft. Gauvin was angelic in the Pie Jesu. Denѐve used the chamber orchestra version of the score which included lower strings, brass, harp, organ and timpani. The sound from both the orchestra and the choir was spiritual in every way. It was as if we were in a great cathedral.
The TSO will return to the stage of Roy Thomson Hall tomorrow, Saturday February 4th at 7:30pm, for The Year of the Rooster: A Chinese New Year Celebration.