Review by David Richards
Toronto ON March 23 2017
Soprano Anu Komsi, guest conductor Hannu Lintu and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
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The acclaimed Finnish conductor, Hannu Lintu returned triumphantly to the Toronto Symphony last night with a remarkable program of music by Finnish composers followed by a Beethoven symphony. Lintu made his first appearance with TSO in 2011. This time, he brought with him the astounding Finnish coloratura soprano Anu Komsi to sing an incredibly challenging and dramatic contemporary work by Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg.
The program began with one of the Sesquies for Canada’s 150th. In collaboration with forty orchestras from across the country, the TSO has co-commissioned forty Canadian composers to each compose a two-minute fanfare to celebrate our country’s sesquicentennial. Last night, it was Kati Agócs, a composer from Windsor, whose fanfare A Hero’s Welcome was featured. The work juxtaposed a hymn-like theme with military drums to celebrate the returning war hero. The fanfare built to a jubilant climax leaving one to reflect on all those who have fought for Canadian ideals. For this listener however, it was a reminder that while the returning hero may be celebrated, the fighting continues.
The remainder of the first half was entirely Finnish beginning with Jean Sibelius’ Suite No. 2 from The Tempest, Op. 109. Lintu is as familiar with the music of Sibelius as anyone could be and it showed as he found just the right balance in the musical descriptions of Prospero, Miranda, and the Naiads. The work also interspersed songs and dances from the incidental music of Shakespeare’s last play. The playful spirit of Miranda and the warmth of Prospero’s persona came alive under Lintu’s direction. It was Finnish romanticism performed with style and charm.
Magnus Linberg is among the most sought-after composers today. His music is as provocative as it is complex. Accused: Three Interrogations for Soprano and Orchestra, was written in 2014 as a co-commission of the TSO. Soloist Anu Komsi carried the weight of this incredibly disturbing and powerful work about persecution and interrogation in three settings: the French revolution, communist East Germany, and the 2010 trial of Bradley (Chelsea) Manning. Komsi brilliantly portrayed both the interrogator and the accused in each. Her performance was more than gripping. She is a vocal dynamo, with no trouble covering a two and a half-octave range and was totally at ease with the gigantic and awkward intervals. Her voice cut through the colourful and dramatic symphonic sounds. This was a stalwart performance that left this listener emotionally drained.
Jan Swafford, in his illuminating biography, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, says that “the Sixth echoed something Beethoven had done before: follow an aggressively challenging work with a gentler and more popularistic one”. Swafford was referring to Beethoven’s fifth and sixth symphonies. In a sense, Lintu followed Beethoven’s lead last night. Following the harrowingly dramatic work Accused, he gave us Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 “Pastoral”. Lintu left the drama behind and gave us Beethoven’s reflections on a day in the country. The familiar symphony was just what the audience wanted as a tonic following the gravity of what preceded it.
In his pre-concert chat, Tom Allen said that the orchestra loved working with conductor Hannu Lintu. In conversations with orchestra members, he heard about the inspiration and demands that gave new insights to a Beethoven Symphony that they had played countless times before. Lintu’s sweeping gestures on the podium clearly communicated his musical vision. I don’t think I have heard the third movement Scherzo played with such energy. There was both grace and buoyancy in this performance. The warmth of the lower strings, the shepherd’s pipe, the country dance and the sudden storm were all so satisfying. It was as if Beethoven was present and telling us that in spite of all the external worldly turbulence and inevitable inner personal struggles, nature’s gifts are our's to enjoy.
The Toronto Symphony will repeat this concert tonight, Thursday March 23 2017 at 8pm at Roy Thomson Hall.
Guest Conductor Hannu Lintu and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Hannu Lintu returns to the TSO podium bringing with him compatriot soprano Anu Komsi and Finnish music