Review by David Richards
Toronto ON October 10th 2019
Pianist Beatrice Rana with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra;
Photo credit: Jag Gundu
Gustavo Gimeno brings attention to detail and fresh energy to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra!
Incoming Music Director and Conductor Gustavo Gimeno and the Toronto
Symphony Orchestra; Photo credit: Jag Gundu
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Following intermission, it was once again a French work matched with a Russian, this time beginning with the Russian part of the pairing. Both Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Tempest Fantasy-Overture,Op. 18 and Maurice Ravel’s Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloé are wonderful pieces of program music – music that tells a story. In the Tchaikovsky, one could sense the royal party on the ship with the heraldic music in the brass, feel the terror of the ensuing storm, and revel in the love music of the play’s Miranda and later Ferdinand in the cellos. The monster Caliban was vivdly portrayed in the jagged rhythms of the double basses. The transformation in the happily-ever-after play coincided with the music of the ship sailing away.
The highlight of the night was Ravel’s magnificent music. The shimmering orchestration of the daybreak scene was magical in the delicate hands of Gimeno and the orchestra. The shepherd god, Pan, was represented by the stunningly beautiful sounds of the principal flute, Kelly Zimba. In fact, the three flutes and piccolo all came into play with the god-like dance music. In a thrilling conclusion, the joyful driving rhythm of the Bacchus influenced dance seemed to celebrate a new season of love both in the myth and in the orchestra itself.
This is a must-see concert, great music by a fully engaged Toronto Symphony orchestra. It will be repeated tonight and Saturday October 10 and 12 at 8pm. Next week, on October 15 and 16, the orchestra will perform a concert of music from James Bond films. Conductor John Morris Russell and vocalists Capathia Jenkins and Ron Bohmer will perform everything from “Thunderball” to the latest music by Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach, Marcin Hamlisch and others.
As for Gustavo Gimeno, if you can’t (or even if you can) make it to one of this week’s concerts, he will return for a concert featuring pianist Yuja Wang on April 9, 10 and 11, 2020.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra demonstrated unequivocally last night at Roy Thomson Hall that it is a superb orchestra and in the hands of its new maestro, Gustavo Gimeno, the future of its artistic excellence is assured.
Gustavo Gimeno returned to the podium for the second time since being hired on as its 11th Music Director beginning in 2020. One could easily sense the abundant energy throughout the orchestra from the opening chords. In speaking to members of the orchestra in the lobby post-concert, their unsolicited comments were unanimous in their praise of the new conductor. His musical imagination, his detail, his work with each of the sections of the orchestra and his positivity were mentioned.
Before the concert began, a prelude concert by TSO Chamber Soloists demonstrated the wonderful musicianship and virtuosity of three of the orchestra’s principals. Principal flute Kelly Zumba, principal harp Heidi Elise Bearcroft and assistant principal viola Theresa Rudolph added to the French ambiance of the evening with music by Ravel, Fauré and Debussy. What an amazing blend of instruments. The rich dark sounds of Rudolph’s viola complemented the soaring flute and harp voices. I was especially enamoured with Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp. Bearcroft went as far as to call it “Debussy;s greatest work”. That point could be debated, but it was indeed magical.
The orchestral program opened with Guillaume Connesson’s Aleph: Danse symphonique, a work the TSO had co-commissioned and had given its Canadian première twelve years ago. Twenty-first century works don’t often leave me breathless, but such was the case last night. “Aleph”, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet was symbolic of the Big Bang beginning of the universe. With a huge array of percussion that played a central role in the piece, the work also symbolized the excitement and energy of a new era for the orchestra. The driving rhythm with big brass chords formed the heart of the sound until a beautifully lyrical theme took over in the violas and cellos, punctuated with flurries of various instruments. The frenzied energy resumed and led to a huge climax.
The following work, Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26, a work that some say is one of the most challenging virtuosic concertos, demands the utmost in endurance and deftness on the part of the solo performer. In her debut with the TSO, the Italian superstar Beatrice Rana navigated the frenetic pace of the music with ease and gave the second movement solo the sentimentality that it requires. The final movement crackled with excitement as the piano ripped through the passages at break-neck speed. Rana certainly gave ample evidence for her meteoric rise to the top of the piano world along with the other twenty-somethings like Lisiecki and Trifonov. She is indeed a phenomenon. She returned for an encore, Chopin’s Étude Op. 25 No. 5 in E Minor.