Toronto Summer Music – Europe and the New World​

Jonathan Crow; Photo credit: www.torontosummermusic.com

​​by Jeff Mitchell
T
oronto ON July 30th 2019

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On Monday evening, in the intimacy of U of T’s Walter Hall, TSO Concertmaster Jonathan Crow and pianist Philip Chiu performed an exciting and eclectic violin recital entitledEurope and the New World. This concert was part of the Toronto Summer Music concert series Beyond Borders, for which Jonathan is Artistic Director, and he certainly did his part to uphold the high standard of artistry and programming that he demands of all the artists whom he recruits for this festival. As a testament to both the popularity and skill of the artists, this concert was sold out – good news for Walter Hall venue sponsor Sheffield Moving and Storage and the festival that they generously support.  Acknowledgement also goes to Christine Choi & Bryan Price and the Heeyun & Robert Brandon Memorial Fund for supporting Jonathan’s performance.  Philip was generously supported by Colleen Sexsmith. 


As the title suggests, the programme crossed numerous borders – geographic, temporal and musical. You might say that the performance crossed the digital/print border as well, with both artists utilizing iPads and foot pedals for turning pages electronically. The opening selection was Brahms’ Scherzo in C-, which was the composer’s contribution to the 1853 F.A.E. Sonata with collaborators Robert Schumann and Albert Dietrich.  Both musicians played with authority and passion, complementing one another with an instant feeling of trust and cohesion. Dialogue between violin and piano looked so natural as they shifted seamlessly between the forceful and loud passages and the quiet and sensitive melodic motifs, flashing technical brilliance and beautiful dynamic control from beginning to end. 

Indeed, technical brilliance complemented by passionate, dynamic virtuosity, underscored by mutual sensitivity and respect, aptly describes the Crow/Chiu performance over the course of the entire evening, which continued with Franck’s 1886 Sonata for Violin and Piano in A+. Unrestrained by the formality of his TSO Concertmaster position, Jonathan entertained the audience with some interesting and humorous thoughts on why he chose the pieces that he did, praising the Belgian-born Franck for “one of the greatest sonatas ever written” but noting that rather than being a nice complement to the German work preceding it, his research revealed that Franck’s work was part of an anti-German movement at the time. Regardless, Philip’s soft touch introduced the first movement’s haunting melodic theme that weaves itself through the entire sonata. Against this ethereal background created by Philip, Jonathan brought out the subtly intense emotion of the music, aided by a lovely vibrato that is expressive but not excessive. He pulled longer phrases to their limit, exhibiting patience in stretching the slow sections. The rollicking 2nd movement demands strong playing by the violinist on the lower strings, played masterfully by Jonathan with rich tone colour. Deep resonance on the D and G strings contrasted nicely with the light and delicate E-string colour.  Philip was ever attentive, keeping close visual contact with Jonathan to ensure that they were always connected. In the 3rd movement, Philip’s deft touch in quieter passages contrasted dramatically with explosions of precise power when demanded by the music, without ever overshadowing Jonathan’s sublime playing. Finally, the famous 4th movement and its recurring musical leitmotifs echoing between violin and piano was simply wondrous, resulting in a spontaneous standing ovation from the appreciative audience to close the first half.

The second half was introduced by Philip, who provided a light-hearted account of being pressured to speak by Jonathan while praising the “genius” of the Artistic Director’s choice of the next work, namely, four selections from Gershwin’s 1935 American folk opera Porgy and Bess, arranged for violin and piano by Jascha Heifetz in 1947.  The four famous songs featured in this arrangement were Summertime, My Man’s Gone Now, Bess You Is My Woman Now and It Ain’t Necessarily So. Jonathan and Philip “rolled up their sleeves” to perform this exciting and soulful fusion of jazz and classical idioms – a fine example of music that goes “beyond borders.”

The concert closed with a work by another American composer, John Corigliano. The 41-year-old Crow commented that the 81-year-old Corigliano doesn’t compose fast music anymore, but the Sonata for Violin and Piano is “a youthful, exciting work with lots of notes and fun to play.”  Written for the composer’s father in 1963 when his father was Concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, the work has a distinctly post-modern feel to it, with challenging rhythms and jarring intervals that brought a whole new kind of energy to the stage.  Melodic lines frequently lead the listener beyond expectation.  The music invites the kind of expansive and confident playing that characterized Jonathan’s and Philip’s performance throughout the evening, covering the full range of technical virtuosity and pallete of emotions.  Again, the audience rose as one at the end to acknowledge the outstanding performance of two superb artists.

The evening concluded with an encore performance of Healey Willan’s Romance for Violin and Piano, dedicated by Jonathan to the memory of former TSO Managing Director Walter Homburger, who passed away last week at the age of 95.  Mr. Homburger had supported the artistic community for decades, so it was most fitting that he would be recognized by the man who is now, as Artistic Director of the Toronto Summer Music festival, doing so much himself to support and promote musical artists and the musical community of which he, himself, is such a significant part. Well done Jonathan.