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The Toronto Symphony Orchestra returned home from its seven city and four country tour of Israel and Europe on Monday of this past week. Last night, the orchestra was already back in its usual position on the stage of Roy Thomson Hall with its famed Conductor Laureate Sir Andrew Davis. This was a very apt reunion with its former conductor because it was also a farewell to its long-time Principal Flute, Nora Shulman. With well-known works by Grieg and Beethoven on the program and with guest French pianist Jean Efflam-Bavouzet, this promised to be a program that everyone could enjoy.

The concert began as many have this year with a “Sesquie for Canada’s 150th”. Co-commissioned by the Toronto Symphony and Sinfonia Toronto, last night’s work is one of 40 celebratory two minute anthems/fanfares by forty Canadian composers in collaboration with forty Canadian orchestras. Last night’s work for strings by Hong Kong born Chan Ka Nin was entitled My Most Beautiful, Wonderful, Terrific, Amazing, Fantastic, Magnificent Homeland: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th".  The work sparkled with infectious rhythms and accessible tonal harmonies.

Many of Davis’ reunions with the orchestra he led from 1976-1988 have been notable for the inclusion of English music. Last night was no exception. Frederick Delius is perhaps the least English of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century English composers. His music, as evidenced by his On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring was more akin to Debussy than Elgar. The lush sounds of the strings and sparse winds made for a very pleasing atmospheric piece. There was even the mimicking of a cuckoo by the clarinet.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet next joined the orchestra for the ever popular Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 by Edvard Grieg. Bavouzet is known for his many recordings on the Chandos label including the award winning complete Prokofiev piano concertos. He is also praised for his interpretations of French music. This listener may have preferred to hear some of his Prokofiev or Stravinsky repertoire. Nevertheless, his Grieg held the audience captive with his authoritative interpretation. I particularly enjoyed the delicate moments. Davis limited the size of the orchestra to about 40 string players. He found just the right balance between piano and orchestra and allowed the orchestra to soar with the piano for the big moments.

​Following intermission, it was Nora Shulman’s turn to soar. The Poem for Flute and Orchestra by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, an American composer of the early 20th century, was the perfect expressive love song for Shulman to say her good-bye to Toronto audiences. Once again, Davis kept the orchestra subdued and allowed Shulman’s flute to sing above the orchestral colours. It was Davis who promoted Shulman to her current position in the orchestra in 1986. She had been the Associate Principal since joining the orchestra in 1974. After forty-three years with the orchestra she has more than earned a retirement celebration. Last night was Shulman’s night and it was evident that the orchestra loved playing for her and with her.

It was notable that following, Shulman’s solo, she returned to her usual chair in the orchestra for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92.  Davis led a spirited performance of the uplifting masterpiece. It may be one of the most performed symphonies, but it never fails to satisfy. The orchestra may have just returned from an arduous overseas tour, but it showed no signs of jet-lag. The only evident casualty was the foot of concertmaster Jonathan Crow, who was wearing a walking cast. Otherwise, the orchestra was in fine form. Welcome home!

The Toronto Symphony will repeat last night’s program tonight at Roy Thomson Hall at 7:30pm (minus the Sesquie and the Poem for Flute and Orchestra) and tomorrow, May 28, 2017 at the Georges Weston Recital Hall at 3:00pm. Toronto Concert Reviews will next be on hand for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Friday, June 2nd when Jonathan Crow will perform Berg’s Violin Concerto. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Hudderfield Choral Society  of England will also join the orchestra in this concert for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast led once again by Sir Andrew Davis.

Sir Andrew Davis and TSO; Photo Credit: Jag Gundu

Nora Shulman; Photo Credit: Christopher Wahl

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON May 27th 2017

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Sir Andrew Davis and TSO; Photo Credit: Jug Gundu

Toronto Symphony returns home for both a reunion and a farewell!