Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- ​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​ -

Dohnanyi Quintet: Heng-Han Hou, Gregory Lewis, violins; Jialiang Zhu, piano;
Matthew Eeuwes, viola; and Brian Manker, cello; Photo credit: David Richards

It has been quite a weekend at Toronto Summer Music Festival with five concerts in three days. Following the fabulous opening concert (see review here), the New Orford String Quartet(NOSQ) took over the main stage on Friday evening to celebrate its 10th anniversary. In a dazzling concert to a sold-out audience at Walter Hall, the quartet displayed its artistry with works by Haydn, Beethoven and a newly commissioned work by Christos Hatzis. The quartet’s work wasn’t finished by any means, however. Each member served as a mentor and leader of four chamber music ensembles from the Festival's 'Chamber Music Institute', performing in three concerts yesterday where they joined with the ‘Art of Song’ Fellows for a fabulous day of great music.

New Orford String Quartet with composer Christos Hatzis
​Photo credit: David Richards

The Toronto Summer Music Academy consists of an “Art of Song Program” and a “Chamber Music Institute” which together comprise 33 musicians on the cusp of their careers. They contribute to the Festival’s theme of 'Beyond Borders' by coming from across North America and Asia. In addition, they all aspire to follow in the footsteps of great musicians who have taken their talents to all corners of the world. These young artists are mentored by the world-class artists who have come to perform and teach at TSM.

A terrific weekend at Toronto Summer Music Festival​

Andrew Wan, Jonathan Crow, Eric Nowlin, Brian Manker 
​Photo credit: Sian Richards

The Brahms String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 was perhaps the most complex of the chamber works performed yesterday. Led by violist Eric Nowland, it’s not surprising that the inner voices played a major role in creating Brahms’ thick texture. The final movement with its wonderful energy combined with beautifully melodious themes made for a very satisfying conclusion.

I looked forward to the Dohnanyi Piano Quintet, No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 1 as soon as I noticed it in the program, and it didn’t disappoint. I performed a Dohnanyi Rhapsody many years ago but had not heard much of his music since. This work was new to me, but it grabbed at my heart and wouldn’t let me go. I am a sucker for romantic writing, and this was full of romance with the deep, dark and rich lyrical playing and a piano part with virtuosic passages of rapid octaves, scales and arpeggios. I was impressed by Brian Manker’s joyful leadership from the cello. I am sure that he gave each of the performers a big dose of confidence.

Artistic Director of TSM Jonathan Crow is to be congratulated for such an inspiring opening weekend. His own first week of the Festival must have been exhausting. In addition to his administrative work, he performed with the NOSQ Thursday and Friday night, mentored and led the Shostakovich Quintet and then, when he finished the last performance and deserved a rest, I was told he was giving a lesson to a young student on his way to a competition in Budapest.

I will be sorry to miss the Festival this week while I am away at a cottage, but will be back on Friday, July 19th for Charles Richard-Hamelin’s performance in Walter Hall. In the meantime, there is a full lineup of concerts and masterclasses all week. The Toronto Summer Music Festival will continue until August 3rd.​

Brian Manker, Eric Nowlin, Andrew Wan, Jonathan Crow
​Photo credit: Sian Richards

Saturday July 13, 2019
Yesterday was magical. I am still on a high from the overdose of great music in three “reGENERATION” concerts. I was looking forward to the four ensembles playing chamber music masterpieces by Shostakovich, Brahms, Dohnanyi and Mendelssohn and was not totally surprised by their professional standards. What I was not prepared for was the quality of singing by the ‘Art of Song’ participants. Both singers and collaborative pianists blew me away with their artistry.​

Friday July 12, 2019
I was totally impressed by the quartet’s performance on Friday evening. The NOSQ is uniquely made up of orchestral players including Toronto Symphony Concertmaster and TSM Artistic Director Jonathan Crow, Montreal Symphony Concertmaster Andrew Wan, Detroit Symphony Principal Violist Eric Nowlin and Montreal Symphony Principal Cellist Brian Manker. They came together at the Orford Arts Centre in 2009, taking their name from both that institution and from the original Orford String Quartet that I have fond memories of listening to in Walter Hall when I was an undergraduate at the UoT’s Faculty of Music. The NOSQ has provided a brilliant ten years of award-winning music-making as they have travelled “beyond borders” establishing an international reputation.

​The joyfulness of Haydn’s String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No.4 (Hob.III:34) came through with the wonderfully precise clarity of the ensemble. It was followed by a World Première of Christos Hatzis’s  String Quartet No. 5 “The Transforming”. The work was commissioned by the Toronto Summer Music Festival. Originally meant to be a twenty-minute work, Hatzis expanded it to three movements lasting about 45 minutes. The quartet gave a fully committed rendering of the music which had moments of poignant beauty and others of disturbing tension. I have to admit that even with his web-notes, I had trouble finding what he described as a “meditation on human suffering”. Nevertheless, I was drawn to the music’s varied textures and effects. The Beethoven String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 which followed intermission was the highlight of the concert for me This familiar music worked its spell on me. The ensemble playing was magnificent and the virtuosic final movement completely dazzled me.  ​

Of the eight singers heard throughout the day, there were a few who stood out for me. Mezzo soprano Alex Hetherington and pianist Scott Downing took me to Canada’s northern wilderness with a stunning performance of Harry Somers’ Loon Cry.  South Korean soprano Yunji Shim impressed me with her powerful and dramatic singing. Baritone Clarence Frazer sounded ready for an operatic career. His performance of the Finzi and Schubert art songs along with pianist Julie Choi were especially effective.

Mendelssohn Octet members:  Andrew Wan, Katya Poplyansky, Minkyoung Lee, Jaeyoung Chong, Andrew Ascenzo, Georgina Rossi, Alessia Disimino, 
Sienna Minkyong Cho; ​Photo credit: Jan Richards

Art of Song Fellows: mezzo soprano Alex Hetherington, soprano Carolyn Beaudoin 
and pianist Bronwyn Schuman; ​Photo credit: David Richards

Brahms Sextet: Russell Iceberg, Chris Stork, violins; Eric Nowlan, Chung-Han Hsiao,
​ violas; Jacob Efthimiou, Allison Rich, cellos; Photo credit: Jan Richards

Art of Song Fellows pianist  Bronwyn Schuman and soprano Yunji Shim 
​Photo credit: Jan Richards

​​by David Richards
oronto ON July 14th 2019

Art of Song Fellows Julie Choi, piano and Clarence Frazer, baritone
​Photo credit: Jan Richards

The surtitles above the stage with the text and translations by Diane Loeb were very effective, eliminating the rustling of paper. JasonNedecky was in the booth with the scores of each work in front of him synchronizing the timing of each line with the singer. 

Of the Chamber ensembles, the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 was especially moving. There was astounding blend and tone quality after just one week of rehearsal. The joyful energy of the ‘scherzo’ was especially memorable for its individual brilliance. Kudos especially to first violin Jessy Je Young Kim.

The Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 with Andrew Wan as first violin displayed brilliant playing and a full, almost orchestral sound. The rhythmically joyful ‘Scherzo’ and the finale that built to a furious fugue gave big moments for me. Wan was spectacular in his virtuosic passages.​