Last night’s TSO program started off with a sort of Remembrance Day pot pourri; pipes, bugles, a bit of poetry, an excerpt of Vaughan Williams in between and finally a rather beautiful account of The Lark Ascending with Jonathan Crow playing the solo from high up in the Gallery. Once upon a time the TSO would do Remembrance Day by performing an appropriate work or works, Britten’s War Requiem for example. I think that might actually be a more effective way of remembering.
It was an unusual double bill at the TSO last night; the premiere of Alexina Louie’s Triple Violin Concerto and Brahms’ A German Requiem. The concerto is an interesting piece. It’s got a layered, shimmery quality that sounds quite modern without going off into territory that would frighten the punters. It also makes excellent use of the three virtuoso soloists for whom it was written; Jonathon Crow, Yosuke Kawasaki and Andrew Wan; concertmasters respectively of the the TSO, the NAC Orchestra and l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. It clever plays the combinations of having soloist dialogue with soloist and soloists dialoguing individually and collectively with the orchestra. Very enjoyable.
Last night the TSO gave the last concert of the Decades Project. Starting, inevitably, with a sesqui, the first half continued with a fine performance of Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with Nicola Benedetti as soloist. In some ways it’s an odd piece to use to characterise the 1930s (but then so is Carmina Burana!). It’s high romantic in tone and style. Lush even. It’s also extremely well crafted with a rather luscious part for the soloist played quite beautifully by Ms. Benedetti.
The TSO’s Decades project has now reached the 1930s; very much home ground for me musically. Last night’s program explored different aspects of the music making of the period, including serialism, in a varied show of why this is not “music to be scared of”. It was also Sir Andrew Davis’ first appearance in his role of interim music director and supreme leader for life of the TSO.
Mahler’s Symphony No.2 in C Minor “Resurrection” is a massive beast using multiple percussionists, a very large brass section (who rather disconcertingly troop on and off stage multiple times), choir and two vocal soloists and it lasts an hour and a half. It’s also a very peculiar animal emotionally; combining almost naive folk dance tunes with passages of haunting beauty and extreme bombast. Last night, in the second of two performances at Roy Thomson Hall, Peter Oundjian and the TSO give it a spectacularly unrestrained performance.
It’s forty years since Sir Andrew Davis first conducted the TSO and to celebrate the fact the TSO programmed a run of Verdi Requiems with Sir Andrew conducting. I caught the last performance last night. It’s in some ways a curious piece; very operatic and not especially liturgical but it does have its subtleties; the very quiet opening and the tenor solo Ingemisco for example but there’s also some moments of drama that are far from subtle. The Dies irae is appropriately loud, even terrifying and it’s used as an accent before the Lacrymosa and during the Libera me. It’s quite a compelling 90 minutes or so.
‘Tis the season to Hallelujah in Toronto and Handel’s Messiah is everywhere. Last night was the first performance of the biggest of them all, the Toronto Symphony and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Roy Thomson Hall. Traditionally this is Toronto’s equivalent of John Barbirolli and the Huddersfield Choral Society so I was surprised to see a set up for a rather small orchestra. In fact about thirty instrumentalists were used, playing modern instruments of course, with about 150 choristers. It was something of a sign of things to come as conductor Grant Llewellyn took us through the piece quite briskly and rhythmically with even some ornamentation in the da capo repeats. It’s becoming more common I think for conductors to get something approaching an HIP sound out of a modern orchestra as we’ve seen with Harry Bicket in various opera houses. The orchestra and chorus responded pretty well to the less staid approach with the sopranos sounding particularly spritely and incisive.