Peter Oundjian conducts the TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu


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Peter Oundjian, Daniil Trifonov; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

TSO and Trifonov: Russian Ark

Like the film of the Hermitage museum, conserving and displaying the cultural treasures of Russia hidden and ignored by communist regimes, tonight's concert treated the audience to musical treasures.

​It was a time piece, taking us first back to the czarist Russia of 1842 when Glinka composed his opera Ruslan and Lyudmila. The rousing overture, a showpiece for the orchestra, as conductor Peter Oundjian described it, must have greatly pleased the French tastes of the St. Petersburg audience.

The next stop on the program was Rachmaninoff's glorious, extended third concerto. The work was composed in 1909 and given its premiere by the composer in New York , on his second American tour. This was a time when a new, successful concerto was a major news event.

Rachmaninoff's third concerto is rich, sonorous, delicate in places, and virtuosic much of the time. Performing it on an American tour (and there was a stop in Toronto) gave the musician the chance to showcase his talent as a composer and his virtuosity on the piano. It is a piece that few can play. For one thing, who else has big enough hands? I have been told that mine are big (I can play a tenth, reach an eleventh), but clearly his were bigger (play a twelfth?).

Acclaimed pianist Daniil Trifonov met the challenges and conquered the work. Also a composer, his appearance tonight was a bit like an echo of Rachmaninoff's performance in Toronto 112 years ago. Trifonov's strength was in the many soft, fluid passages. The audience accorded him a standing ovation and he favoured us with an encore, the Andante to Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8.

​​Review by Paul Merkley FRSC

Toronto ON June 17th 2018

​The orchestra was at its very best in the final work, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition orchestrated by Ravel. This work may be the most visually descriptive piece in the classical repertoire. As I heard principal trumpet Andrew McCandless sound the broad tones of the promenade, the recurring theme that depicts the walking between paintings, one of the best trumpet passages in the repertoire, along with the steely muted theme, and the triumphant, stentorian theme of the Great Gate of Kiev, I thought of a bright, talented young musician I have just worked with. I hope she will have musical experiences like this.

For the so-called ‘Bydlo’ music, principal trombone Gordon Wolfe put down his instrument and picked up a euphonium (also called baritone, or tenor tuba). This instrument has been on my mind because I have been asked whether it is too big for a smaller young person to play comfortably (it is). Euphonium means sweet voice, and Wolfe played it sweetly, but he used vibrato, and this surprised  me. Is the euphonium played with vibrato? French orchestras require the French horn to be played with vibrato, but they are the only ones. In fact this is one way to recognize a French orchestra over the radio. What would it mean to have a euphonium playing with vibrato? Fortunately such questions can be looked up, and I find, in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, with the certainty that comes from a prescriptive dictionary, that ‘in the band, as the euphonium, it is sometimes played with vibrato; in the orchestra, as tenor tuba, it is played without, in the style of the other orchestral brass’. But not tonight.

What a wonderful evening! Maestro Oundjian was spot on with tempi and direction.

This repertoire is Russian romantic music, having next to nothing to do with the more modern traditions of the twentieth century, but as I savoured its beauty, I thought of a remark one of my composition teachers made. We have heard neo-classical music, also neo-baroque, maybe even a bit of neo-medieval music. But think of the great potential of new composers revisiting romantic music. How wonderful that will be!

​The TSO under the direction of Peter Oundjian with guest artist Emanuel Ax will perform Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17, K. 453 and Mahler's Symphony No. 9 on Wednesday June  20th and Saturday June 23rd at 8pm in Roy Thomson Hall.