Review by David Richards
June 16, 2016
Yefim Bronfman, Peter Oundjian and the TSO, Photo by Josh Clavir
TORONTO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA with pianist YEFIM BRONFMAN is dazzling!
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The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is enjoying a remarkable month of June with guest artists, and innovative and challenging programs worthy of any world stage. Last night’s program at Roy Thomson Hall was no exception. It included a spectacular world premiere by Canadian composer Jordan Pal, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 with guest soloist and world renowned pianist Yefim Bronfman, and Beethoven’s monumental Symphony No. 3, the ‘Eroica’.
The program, the final in the Masterworks Series, began with City in Colours, a recently commissioned work by the TSO written by RBC Affiliate Composer Jordan Pal. It used all the effects the orchestra could possibly muster to create a sound-painting of a modern city. The surprisingly accessible work was rich in warm harmonies, fragments of melody, and of course sudden dissonant, percussive interruptions. The brass section was spread out around the strings from one side of the stage to the other. An array of percussion instruments combined in a variety of ways to create a rich palette of colours. Pal included a newly created instrument called the hand-pan that he found on Facebook. This ‘flying saucer’ shaped and tuned percussion instrument has what Pal calls a sound of ‘metallic warmth’. Built by piano tuner Michael Dragaman, its sound had a unifying effect throughout the piece. Pal has created a compelling work that is worthy of being heard again and again.
The Beethoven concerto that followed achieved its own range of colour and dynamics. Yefim Bronfman, a giant in the world of piano, was in great form. He performed with power, dexterity and passion. The slow movement had a delicacy that drew the audience closer with every note. One could imagine Beethoven himself at the keyboard performing the work. The orchestra responded to his extraordinary energy and created a spirited yet sensitive performance.
Bronfman has been maintaining a frenetic pace of concerts in both North America and Europe this year, performing recitals, chamber music, and concertos with major artists and orchestras. Last week he was in Austria and Germany. After his performances with the TSO this week, he has two days to prepare for New York’s Carnegie Hall and then San Francisco with different programs in each city.
In the second half of the program, conductor Peter Oundjian led an intense rendering of the ‘Eroica’. As much as Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 looked back and perhaps was inspired by Mozart, this work has a new creative spirit that looks forward. Many say that the work was indeed the beginning of the Romantic period. Originally dedicated to Napoleon, the symphony was Beethoven’s musical tribute to the struggle to overcome the tyranny of political oppressors. It looked forward to the celebration of freedom he would portray in his ninth symphony. Longer than any previous symphony, the dissonance and syncopations created tensions that reflected Beethoven’s inner turmoil and struggles with deafness. Ten notes into the work that begins with two thunderous E flat major chords, a piercing C# with syncopated strings over it foretells the struggles to come. Each of the movements is monumental The orchestra responded with majestic playing. The woodwind solos were played beautifully, especially in the second movement. The three horns, a novel number for its time, were brilliant in the Scherzo. The energy of the Finale was breathtaking. This was Beethoven as one can only imagine when listening to recordings. BRAVO!
On Friday, June 17th, Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony will be juxtaposed with Mike Mills’ Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra featuring Robert McDuffie (violin) and Mills of R.E.M. on bass guitar.
On June 23, 24 and 25, the final program of the TSO’s 2015/16 season will feature members of The Second City including Colin Mochrie in the hilarious Second City Guide to the Symphony.