Decades – the 1930s

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.

The concert opened with another of the sesqui commissions.  This time it was Luc Martin’s Hero’s Fanfare.  I’m not getting this sesqui thing at all.  Mini commissions of mini interest for the most part.  I don’t think any of them has had as much impact as a moose in St. John’s eating the celebratory tulips.

After this the first half of the concert continued with Hindemith’s Concert Music for Brass and Strings.  It’s just what it says on the label!  It’s a complex, intriguing piece with the music often passing back and forth between a large brass section and the strings before concluding with an elegant fugue.  It’s funny how everything kind of sounds like dance music (in the best possible way) when Sir Andrew conducts and this was a good example of that.  It was followed by Berg’s Violin Concerto with Jonathan Crow as soloist.  This is a gorgeous work.  It’s lush and lyrical and the sheer beauty of it completely belies the notion that twelve tone music is angular, ugly and inaccessible.  The performances from both orchestra and soloist were terrific.

So, having gone end to end in the german lands it was over the channel for a work by that quirkiest of British composers Sir William Walton; Belshazzar’s Feast.  This is a choral work conceived on the grandest scale and executed here with a huge chorus; the combined forces of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Huddersfield Choral Society. Certainly there were upwards of 200 choristers in the loft.  It also features a big, loud orchestra, the organ and a baritone soloist; here Alexander Dobson.

It’s a tough piece for the choir who are singing full out most of the time.  It’s tricky for the soloist who has some very exposed, unaccompanied passages and it’s a challenge for the conductor because it is so dense it could easily turn to mush.  It also has a kind of weird, playful rhythmic element; vaguely like one would get if Façade were to be rescored for a giant orchestra and chorus.  Here there was plenty of precision from conductor, orchestra and choir backed up by a firm, accurate and powerful soloist.  Lots of exuberance, occasional more subtle and affecting passages and no mush.  Very impressive.


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