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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON June 22nd 2017

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s successful season is coming to an end this week with four performances of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The orchestra has been on a whirlwind for the final six weeks of its schedule with a four country tour of Israel and Europe, two brilliant weeks with Sir Andrew Davis conducting, and the Decades Project concerts that have already included riveting performances of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins. Of course in early June, Sir Andrew Davis was announced as Interim Music Director for two years following Peter Oundjian’s departure in June 2018. All this activity has led to a climactic finale with four performances from last night through to Saturday.

​Carmina Burana, Carl Orff’s masterpiece of ritualistic primitivism, the main event of the week’s concerts, was everything one could hope for. The performance was a tour de force. Peter Oundjian led the orchestra, choirs and soloists through the medieval poetic settings paying homage to the ebb and flow of “fortune”. The celebration of spring time, the decadence of life in the tavern and the joys and sorrows of love-making all took their turn. The large orchestra that included two pianos and five percussionists filled the hall with rhythmic drive, virtuosic passages and subtle melancholy. The work held its high energy throughout the full hour of intense music making. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir was in fine form in both the explosive O Fortuna choruses and the delicate a capella sections. Toronto Children’s Chorus added to the large choral sound and had some tender moments of its own.

The soloists each made remarkable contributions to the work. Soprano Aline Kuton was sublime in her vocal control and expressive singing. Baritone Phillip Addis who was last heard earlier this year as Papageno in the COC performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute, was brilliant displaying an abundance of power as well as comedic flair. Countertenor Daniel Taylor added to the drama with his portrayal of the misery of a swan roasting on a spit. Each of these Canadian singers is a world-class artist. Last night’s performance was just that – world-class!

Violinist Nicola Benedetti and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

TSO’s CARMINA BURANA is a memorable conclusion to its 16/17 season!

​​​​Before the main event of the evening, the great Scottish born violinist Nicola Benedetti was the soloist in Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 61. Benedetti and the orchestra took the listener on a musical journey of virtuosic playing from the haunting sounds of the opening to a brilliant cadenza and a vigourously joyful conclusion incorporating Polish folk material along the way. Benedetti was last heard in Toronto in a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the Venice Baroque Orchestra a few months back. She is currently on a tour of the Americas with upcoming performances in Mexico City, Columbia and Chile before returning to The London Proms in July and more festivals in August. Wow!

The Canadian 150th celebrations were also included in the evening with an opening Sesquie and a pre-concert performance of Canadian compositions.

The concert opened with Pierre Simard’s The Bastion: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th, a two-minute celebratory fanfare co-commissioned by the Vancouver Island Symphony. It portrayed both the vibrant energy of life in Nanimo, B.C. around the ‘Bastion’ and the enduring nature of the ediface built in 1853 to defend the Hudson’s Bay coal miners from the Kwakwak’wakw peoples.

TSO Chamber Soloists gave a few hundred early-bird concert-goers an appetizer. A brass quintet comprised of Andrew McCandless and Steven Woomert, trumpet; Audrey Good, horn; Vanessa Fralick, trombone; and Mark Tetreault, tuba, performed works by Canadian composers Milton Barnes, Oskar Morawetz and Morley Calvert. The virtuosity of each of the performers was on full display along with the precision and unity of a cohesive ensemble. I was especially moved by Calvert’s arrangement of the French Canadian Folk Song of protest, Un Canadien errant in the second movement of his Suite from the Monteregian Hills.

As joyous as both the fanfare and music of the pre-concert performance was, both the Un Canadien errant and the story of the Bastion of Nanaimo reminded me that our celebration of 150 years of confederation needs to be tempered by the dark stories in our history both in the exploitation of the original peoples and in the relationship between French and English cultures.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, led by Peter Oundjian, will repeat last night’s performance through to Saturday, June 24th at Roy Thomson Hall. This is a concert that should not be missed!

Music Director Peter Oundjian, Phillip Addis, Daniel Taylor, Aline Kutan, TMC, TCC
Photo credit: Jag Gundu