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Beethoven Septet, Photo Credit: James M. Ireland

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON, August 6 2016

As the Toronto Summer Music Festival comes to a close this weekend, it is astounding to look back at the past three weeks and comprehend the breadth of musical diversity in the festival’s theme: London Calling. One of the most compelling parts of the festival has been the chamber music series paying tribute to the growth of public concerts in London in the 19th century. No longer was great music only heard by the aristocracy and the church. 

​In the late 18th century, impresario Johann Peter Salomon had established concerts in the Hanover Square Rooms in London. Born in Bonn, he came to London around 1780 as both a violinist and composer of opera. As an impresario searching for Europe’s finest musicians, he enticed Haydn to travel to London where he wrote 12 symphonies between 1791 and 1794.

In 1801, with manuscripts in tow, Salomon introduced Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20 to London’s paying audience. Last night’s concert at Walter Hall harkened back to the Hanover Square Rooms when the Septet was premiered.

The program of Haydn and Beethoven would have delighted the audiences of 1801 and it was equally delightful to the sold out audience last evening. It was happy music, all in major keys, well-suited to the celebratory tone of the evening. Artistic Director Douglas McNabney was honoured at the outset of the concert with the presentation by Board Chair Lawrence Herman of a framed collage of posters from his six years at the helm of the festival.

Haydn’s “London” Flute Trio No.1 in C major, Hob.IV:1 opened the program with charming, playful sounds bouncing between flutist Nora Shulman and violinist Aaron Schwebel. With cellist David Hetherington rounding out the trio, they gave a spirited and joyful performance. The trio sparkled in the Vivace final movement. Shulman (principal flute of the TSO) was especially dazzling.

Next up was Haydn’s Symphony No.102 in B-flat major, Hob.1:102 transcribed by impresario Salomon for a chamber septet. Last night’s ensemble was made up of flutist Nora Shulman, violinists Shane Kim and Aaron Schwebel, violist Ryan Davis, cellist David Hetherington, double bassist Brandyn Lewis, and pianist David Jalbert. From the opening unison and Largo introduction, the ensemble had a unity and shimmering sound that sparkled with the opening theme of the first movement. There was no need for a large orchestra usually associated with the work. The ensemble provided an abundance of energy and colour.

The program concluded with Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major, Op.20. Once again, the ensemble was made up of some of Canada’s finest chamber musicians. Jonathan Crow, concert master of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, led the group to achieve a balance in the ensemble that was magical. His solo playing, especially evident in the cadenza of the final movement, was both musically sensitive and brilliantly virtuosic. Others in the ensemble included clarinetist Anthony Thompson, violist Eric Nolan, cellist Emmanuelle Beaulieu, horn player Gabriel Radford and bassoonist Nadine Mackie Jackson. The solo work of Thompson and Crow in the second movement were especially delicate and heart-warming. The fifth movement opened with an impressive horn solo that Radford handled with the gusto of a call to the hunt. The unity and expressiveness of the ensemble was most impressive and the forty-five-minute work finished all too soon for this listener.

2016’s fabulous Toronto Summer Music Festival winds up with several chamber music performances today and tomorrow. For Jonathan Crow, newly appointed Artistic Director of the festival, work has already begun on the 2017 season. As for the public, there is still plenty of great music to be heard throughout Ontario this summer at such destinations as Ottawa, Haliburton, Prince Edward County, Orillia, Stratford and Niagara to name just a few.

Haydn and Beethoven in Hanover Square!