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Beethoven had an incomparable skill for raising a movement to what seems an unsurpassable peak of excitement or tension, then to surpass it. He did that at the end of the Waldstein finale; he will do it in the coda of the Fifth Symphony’s first movement. 

​​by David Richards
oronto ON May 12th 2012

Guest Conductor Nicholas Collon and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

Last night’s concert by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall was one that was designed to attract a large audience. It was no surprise that there were very few empty seats scattered around the hall. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 is perhaps the most well-known work in the entire orchestral repertoire – at least the first four notes are ubiquitously familiar. Add to it a sparkling piano concerto by Mozart and Elgar’s tuneful Serenade and the result was a full house. The main event was the Beethoven. The monumental classic builds from the fateful four notes to a triumphant finale.

Toronto Symphony delivers an exceptional Beethoven’s 5th!​

Sir Andrew Davis will return to the TSO this Wednesday, May 15 and Thursday, May 16 for César Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 in E Minor.

So said Jan Swafford in his recent biography of the composer, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. 

Last night the Toronto Symphony Orchestra led by the British conductor, Nicholas Collon found that peak of excitement in the first movement and then raised the bar to a thrilling finale. Beethoven’s personal inner journey of “anguish to triumph” was set before the audience in a stunning performance. From destiny knocking on the door to the ecstatic cry of victory, the journey was evident.

Conducting without a score, Collon was brilliant in communicating every detail of the work as he wanted it. The orchestra responded with an outstanding performance. Collon is a new face to Toronto audiences. In fact, this week’s performances mark his debut in North America. At age 36, he has just this month been appointed the Chief Conductor of the Finnish Radio Symphony, a position he will assume in 2021. When only 21, he and a group of musicians from the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain founded the Aurora Orchestra with Collon as Artistic Director, a position he still maintains. The orchestra has more than made its mark in Britain and Europe. Judging by his work with the TSO, he will no doubt be in demand in the years ahead on this side of the Atlantic.

The first half of the concert was an appetizer for the main event on the program. It began with the famous sweet melodies and rich harmonies of Edward Elgar’s Serenade in E Minor for String Orchestra, Op. 20 performed exquisitely by a pared down string section for the lilting, nostalgic and reflective music. It opened with the most luxurious sounds of the violins playing the oft-heard main theme. The long legato melancholic lines of the second movement gave way to the finale, another short, lyrical movement that returns to the opening theme before it found a restful conclusion. 

The brilliant pianist Shai Wosner joined the orchestra next for W.A. Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467. Wosner was in his TSO début, but has worked with the evening’s conductor having recorded with him previously. Born in Israel, he completed his education at Juilliard with Emmanual Ax and lives in the US. His performance in the concerto was true to Mozart, never overdone, shimmering in the lyrical passages and clean in the virtuosic moments. There was a wonderful balance between orchestra and soloist, something not always achieved at RTH. I hope Toronto audiences get a chance to hear more of him soon.

Pianist Shai Wosner, Nicholas Collon and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu