Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- ​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​ -

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON May 6th 2017

Following intermission, the orchestra had all hands on deck for Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra. The opening bars by the eighteen celli and basses with the background shimmering of upper strings and flutes grew from almost nothing into an all consuming energy as instruments were added. Throughout the five movements, solos and duets by virtually every principal woodwind and brass player make the challenging work a showcase for the orchestra. The thirty-five minute masterpiece took the listener through sudden changes of mood using folk material, dance rhythms, a death song, and a finale complete with a rousing fugue in the final movement and left one fully satisfied. Oundjian had the orchestra performing with passion. Prague will no doubt be thrilled with the music of their local hero performed so convincingly. The orchestra is indeed ready for this tour.

When the Toronto Symphony Orchestra returns from its tour, Sir Andrew Davis will conduct a program of Delius, Grieg, Griffes and Beethoven. Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and TSO Principal Flute Nora Shulman will be featured as soloists. The concerts will take place on May 26 and 27 at Roy Thomson Hall and on May 28 at George Weston Recital Hall.

Pianist Jan Lisiecki, Music Director ​Peter Oundjian and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu​

Music Director ​Peter Oundjian and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu

Pianist Jan Lisiecki, Music Director ​Peter Oundjian and TSO; Photo credit: Jag Gundu​

Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki followed with a stunningly beautiful rendering of Robert Schuman’s Piano Concerto in A Minor Op. 54. I am more impressed with Lisiecki’s playing each time I hear him perform. The contrasts between his gentle lyricism and powerfully virtuosic arpeggios and octave passages brought out the romanticism in the score. The first movement’s cadenza was so spectacular that the audience couldn’t contain its reaction at the end of the movement and burst out in applause. Following the concerto, Lisiecki performed Chopin’s Nocturne No. 13, Op. 48, No. 1 as an encore. Once again he played with such delicacy that every note and phrase became a visceral experience. The twenty-two year old Lisiecki from Calgary is no longer the young prodigy who began amazing the world at the age of nine; he is a mature artist with rare gifts worthy of all the international acclaim he is receiving.

It’s an exciting time for the TSO. Tomorrow, the orchestra will leave for Israel and Europe. This past week, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has been gearing up for its upcoming major tour by giving Toronto audiences a preview of the music it has planned.

Under the leadership of Music Director Peter Oundjian, the TSO will make its first-ever touring appearances in Israel with performances in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, before travelling to Europe and appearing in Vienna, Regensburg, Essen and Prague, as part of the famous Prague Spring International Music Festival.

Over the course of the four-country, seven-concert tour, distinguished Israeli-Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov, celebrated Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, and dazzling Canadian soprano Carla Huhtanen will join the TSO as featured soloists.

The tour will mark the beginning of the good-bye to Oundjian. Since taking over the orchestra in 2004, he has led it to unprecedented heights of accomplishment. This will be the last major tour under his leadership that will end with the 2017-18 season. The tour will also be a farewell tour for principal flutist Nora Shulman who will retire at the end of the current season, having been with the orchestra for the past 43 years.

The tour will display the great virtuosity of the ninety or so orchestral players, two Canadian composers and two Canadian soloists and take on the daunting assignment of performing the music of Bartok, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Smetana and Morawetz in the composers’ homelands.

At this past Wednesday’s concert, the first of two “send-off performances”, the orchestra performed Oskar Morawets’s Carnival Overture Op.2, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherezade, Op. 35, and Pierre Boulez’s Le Soleil des eaux with soprano Carla Huhtanen and the Soundstreams Choir 21. The Boulez work will be performed in Vienna with Huhtanen and the Wien Singakademie.

The second of the two preview concerts took place on Thursday afternoon. The concert began with Jordan Pal’s Iris, a newly TSO commissioned work that premiered in the TSO’s New Creations Festival a few months ago. The work uses all the forces of the orchestra to create a multitude of effects. Sudden bursts of percussion, brass, and full orchestra leap from the string textures. Bowing the edge of timpani and cymbals were a few of the rarely heard sounds that added to the tonal colour. This ten-minute work made for a joyous overture, a sparkling 21st century addition to the tour’s program.

A preview of TSO’s Tour of Israel, Austria, Germany and Czech Republic!