Jeremy Denk and violinists of the TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Jonathan Crow concertmaster and Jeremy Denk piano; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Mozart and Jeremy Denk at the TSO
by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
Toronto ON May 31st 2019
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The program began with the overture to Don Giovanni, the opera that Mozart called a ‘comical drama.’ The opening chords (which later begin the chilling speech of the ghostly statue) tell us that we must take this seriously, the emphatic trombones assuring us that someone will die on stage. Simon Rivard, the young RBC Resident conductor of the orchestra, took the baton. His tempo was suitably solemn, the chords bold and dramatic. He appears to be the kind of conductor who makes the most of every note. It was an enjoyable performance of work that is heard often.
The next piece was Mozart’s Piano concerto K 449 in E flat major, composed for his piano and composition student Barbara Ployer, and first performed by her in her residence. Besides the piano, there were two oboes, two horns, and strings, a good-sized ensemble of household musicians. Jeremy Denk conducted the orchestra from the piano, which Mozart would have done, and his student may have done, a holdover from the tradition of basso continuo, combined with the position of a leader in a string orchestra.
The piano, however, was a nine-foot grand positioned in ‘profile,’ the side turned towards the audience. Mozart or his student would have played the much lighter fortepiano, and positioned it to face the orchestra. Denk had his back to half the orchestra, so that much of the co-ordination was left up to concert master Jonathan Crow, who acted as the ‘leader’.
There are pros and cons to using a grand piano for this repertoire. Many pianists feel they have developed their technique on a modern instrument, and playing on the fortepiano is best left to specialists. In addition Roy Thomson Hall has many cubic feet of air to be filled with music.
Denk prefers a small sound for this repertoire, so the orchestra was not overbalanced by the piano; the trade-off was in the musical clarity, crystal clear in the orchestra and somewhat blurred in the piano. The orchestra, a model of lightness and elegance, sparkled.
Denk seems to favour frequent, slight tempo changes, for this period, as do other keyboardists. One can look at the changing metronome markings in Schnabel’s edition of Beethoven to see something similar.
Denk produced a small, closed-in sound for the minor key rondo, the third piece of the evening. This is indeed an unusual piece, an example of a melancholy work in this genre.
After intermission came a second concerto, Mozart’s K 503 in C major, this work with the added forces of timpani, bassoons, trumpet, and flute. It sounded so different from K 449 that it did not seem to be even in the same genre.
The performance will be repeated Thursday May 30 and Saturday June 1 at 8 p.m.