Denis Kosaka, Kristjan Järvi and the TSO
Photo credit: David Richards
Toronto Symphony Orchestra roars into the ‘twenties’!
Denis Kozhukhin, Kristjan Järvi and the TSO
Photo credit: Arthur Mola
Eri Kosaka, Shane Kim, Kristjan Järvi and the TSO
Photo credit: Arthur Mola
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 27th 2016
Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music
Last night, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra launched its latest “Decades Project” series with an all out assault on the 1920’s. It included the work of four composers, three soloists, a guest conductor, an intermission talk and even a cymbalom. It was a showcase for most of the principals of the orchestra.
As noted in the intermission talk by CBC’s Tom Allen and his guest Ian Bell, the “roaring twenties” weren’t quite as roaring as often depicted given that prohibition was in full-swing on both sides of our southern border. Nevertheless, it was a jazz-influenced era for composers and the public on this side of the Atlantic. In contrast, the post-war and post-revolution changes to everyday life in eastern Europe affected the arts and music. The concert demonstrated music from both parts of the world.
Before reaching back to the 1920s, guest-conductor Kristjan Järvi opened the concert with a performance of Steve Reich’s Duet for Two Violins and Strings in celebration of the eightieth birthday of the influential American composer. The work is a short minimalist composition which Reich dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin. TSO violinists Eri Kosaka and Shane Kim performed their canonic duet with rhythmic vitality accompanied by the pulsating murmur of lower strings. The constantly repeated motive had a spellbinding effect.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Minor , Op. 40 is less well-known than his first three concertos. In fairness, the work really can’t be compared to the earlier works having been composed after he had left Russia, and subsequently immersed himself in American culture, particularly in the idiom of jazz. As such, the work doesn’t have the brooding romantic themes of the earlier Russian-influenced concertos. Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin gave a riveting performance bringing out the dazzling energy of the work, especially in the powerful finale.
It’s not often that one hears two concertos in a concert performed by the same soloist, but such was the case last evening. Kozhukhin returned following intermission to perform George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, a work that greatly influenced Rachmaninoff. Predictably, this was a barn-burner. Both the pianist and the TSO were in fine form. From the spectacular opening glissando by principal clarinetist JoaquinValdepeñas through each of the wonderful jazzy solos performed by many of the principals in the orchestra, the various sections each had moments to complement the breathtaking virtuosity of Kozhukhin who showed his ability to play convincingly in the jazz idiom. With the addition of saxophones, the TSO became a fabulous big-band, one that Paul Whiteman who commissioned and premiered the concerto in 1924, would have been proud.
From America, the concert took a left turn and ended in post WWI Hungary where nationalistic pride was bursting with independence and Zoltan Kodaly was researching the folk music of the Hungarian people. His Suite from ‘Háry János’ once again became a showcase for the outstanding principals in the TSO who performed the work with incredible energy. Principal violist Teng Li portrayed the expressive song of longing in the third movement with haunting tenderness. The percussion section deserves plaudits for its energetic contribution; the cymbalom solos performed by Richard Moore added to the Hungarian flavour of the work. The energy of the finale was completely infectious, so much so that guest conductor Järvi repeated it as an encore.
In the last three weeks, we have witnessed three guest conductors all with the credentials to be superb replacements when Peter Oundjian moves on. Last night, Kristjan Järvi in his TSO debut, performed like he had worked with the orchestra for years. His ease and command with the demanding scores and his energetic style leads me to hope that he will be back soon.
Last night’s concert will be repeated this evening. The Decades Project: 1920-1929 will continue with concerts on November 2, 3 and 5 featuring guest conductor James Gaffigan and pianist John Kimura Parker. On November 9 and 11, Peter Oundjian will take the podium; the concerts will feature soloists Jonathan Crow, Teng Li, Inukshuk Aksalnik and Pauline Pemik.