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Musicians of TSO and Guest Conductor Bernard Labadie
Photo credit: Jag Gundu/TSO

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON January 14th 2018

One of the best things that January brings each year is a respite from the cold and snow with two weeks of some of the most sublime music ever written. This year’s edition of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s annual buffet of Mozartian offerings is entitled the Mozart @262 Festival, celebrating the upcoming 262nd birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus. Last night’s concert at Roy Thomson Hall was the third of nine concerts celebrating the composer. Co-curators of the Festival, Bernard Labadie and TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian have put together a superb sampling of Mozart’s instrumental music. ​

​Last night’s concert was conducted by one of the world’s leading conductors of Baroque/Classical era music. Bernard Labadie. Labadie has been installed as Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s beginning with the 2018-19 season. He continues his frenetic pace of guest conducting major orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic. His longstanding relationship with the TSO’s annual Mozart Festival is a testament to the synergy he has with the orchestra.

The concert opened with Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major, K. 370a/361. Known as the “Gran Partita”, the work is scored for just twelve wind players and double bass. Pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns and bassoons were supported by four horns and double bass. The work’s seven movements span over forty-five minutes, hence the “Gran” in its nickname. To call the performance sublime does not do it justice. Labadie, conducting without a score, held the 13 players in the palm of his baton-less hands. 

​The fourth movement Minuet was especially endearing with its cat and mouse playfulness as pairs of instruments took turns with the theme. The seventh movement Rondo was a tour de force for each player with virtuosic playing and ensemble togetherness that is rarely heard with this combination of instruments.

Principal oboist Sarah Jeffrey created musical lines that arched over the Mozartian harmonies with deep soulfulness. At other times, her instrument danced with the energy of street gymnasts. Principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeňas, who had just performed the Mozart Clarinet Concerto the previous night with the symphony, was once again magnificent in his lead role. The basset horn players, Miles Jaques and Juan Olivares​, made  strong impressions, not just because of the novelty of hearing basset horns, but because of their combined warmth and rhythmically tight performances.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543 gave the second half of the concert a contrasting tonal palette. The orchestra included just 33 string players along with 1 flute and a pair of clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani – not a large orchestra for the size of the hall but just the right size to give Mozart’s music colour and texture. Labadie, once again without a score, found the subtle balances and phrasing to create magic with the orchestra. The work, the first of Mozart’s ‘big three’ final symphonies, was boldly and nimbly played. I especially enjoyed the clarinet duet in the middle section of the Minuet.

Next week, the Festival continues on January 17 at Roy Thomson Hall and moves uptown to Koerner Hall on January 18 at 8:00pm with Bernard Labadie conducting once again in a concert entitled Essential Mozart. Concertmaster Jonathan Crow and Principal violist Teng Li will be featured soloists. For the final four concerts of the Festival, TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian will be on the podium conducting the mighty “Jupiter” Symphony. Along with Oundjian, violinist Adrian Anantawan and pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin will be on the program. Concerts will be at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday, January 19 at 7:30 pm and at Koerner Hall on Saturday January 20 at 2:00pm and 8:00pm. The Festival will conclude with a performance at the George Weston Recital Hall on Sunday, January 21 at 3:00pm

Sarah Jeffrey, Cary Ebli, Joaquin Valdepenas, Joseph Orlowski, Miles Jaques, Juan Olivares, Nicholas Hartman, Gabe Radford, Audrey Good, Neil Diamond, Jeffrey Beecher, Michael Sweeney, Samuel Banks  of TSO, and Guest Conductor Bernard Labadie
Photo credit: Jag Gundu/TSO

Musicians of TSO and Guest Conductor Bernard Labadie
Photo credit: Jag Gundu/TSO

TSO’s Mozart@262 Festival a welcome respite from January’s cold and snow!​