Last night at Koerner Hall, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra performed its third all-Mozart program celebrating his 261st birthday. Over the span of ten days, audiences have witnessed the genius of arguably the world’s finest composer. The TSO has brought its best to the table for this party: three superb conductors, four sensational soloists, and a Mozartian-sized orchestra that clearly has enjoyed the chamber-like intimacy of Koerner Hall.
Last night, the co-curator of the TSO’s birthday celebration Mozart@261 Festival, Bernard Labadie was at the podium. Labadie has been getting a lot of attention in the past week, and justifiably so. He was the featured artist in the CBC Radio 2 program This Is My Music last Saturday. This week, he is conducting the Toronto Symphony Orchestra twice. Most impressively, he will also be in the pit at the Four Seasons Centre tonight conducting Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute. A week like this would be a gargantuan task for anyone, but for Labadie it is almost heroic. He is in recovery from a life-threatening stage-four cancer. It is no wonder that he was seated on the podium to conduct last night’s performance.
The concert itself was a panoramic view of Mozart’s life from aged sixteen to thirty. The opening work, Overture to Lucio Silla, K. 135 was a light-hearted beginning to the evening festivities. The opera, successfully produced in Milan in 1772, turned a first century Roman war story into a tale of love. Opening with a fanfare of trumpets, horns and timpani, the overture confirmed Mozart’s youthfulness. It was a three movement (fast-slow-fast) miniature symphony, with beautifully tuneful lines in the Andante, and with abundant energy in the outer frames. Labadie reduced the lower strings to four cellos and two basses to create a lighter sound. It worked.
Bracketing the intermission were two violin concertos performed by the wonderful German violinist Isabelle Faust. This multi award-winning violinist and prolific recording artist is more interested in getting to the heart of the music she plays than the glamour that often accompanies female virtuosos. Playing on the "Sleeping Beauty” 1704 Stradivarius as she has for twenty years, she demonstrated exquisite tonal beauty and flawless Mozartian style. Never her goal to dazzle an audience with bravado, Faust once said, ”It's always my goal to get a different interpretation and also a different kind of voice particular to the voice of the composer."
In both concertos, Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216 and Violin Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Major, K. 207, Faust’s interplay with the orchestra was delightful. Her cadenzas were both brilliant and pure Mozart. One could imagine a still teenage Mozart performing these works that he wrote to perform himself. It would have been wonderful to have had Faust direct the orchestra while performing as was Mozart’s custom.
The final work on the program took us all the way to Mozart at thirty. In 1786, he had come on hard times in Vienna and with the prospects of his opera entitled The Marriage of Figaro about to be mounted in Prague, he wrote a symphony that would be premiered in Prague to great acclaim. Symphony No. 38, in D Major, K. 504 “Prague”, under Labadie’s direction was indeed impressive. The orchestra, expanded to include flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, horns, and timpani, brought out all of the work’s drama and colour. Labadie highlighted the triumphant spirit of the work. It left one with the sense that a joyful, positive approach overcomes all of life’s worst times. It was true for Mozart and true for Labadie.
The program will be repeated on Friday, January 20th at 7:30 at Koerner Hall.
Happy Birthday Wolfgang!!
Bernard Labadie and TSO, Photo: Jag Photography
TSO’s ten-day birthday bash for Mozart concludes with a panorama of his life’s music!
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON January 19th 2017
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Isabel Faust, Bernard Labadi, TSO; Photo by Jag Photography