Toronto Summer Music opener

Last night saw the first concert of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival.  The theme was “Beyond Borders” with most of the works presented; a mixture of piano, violin and vocal, having been influenced by other cultures/places or written in exile.

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First up was Jon Kimura Parker with a thoughtful, delicate and, finally, quite exuberant account of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Minor K331 with it’s final movement; the Ottoman influenced Alla turca.

This was followed by Adrianne Pieczonka and Steven Philcox with Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires gréques.  These are settings of French translations of Greek folksongs and have something of Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne about them.  They were nicely done and weren’t made to sound too “dressed up” as can so often happen with classical versions of folk songs.

Kerson Leong and Rachael Kerr collaborated on Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen.  No question that Leong plays a mean fiddle and this was pretty much a “show off” piece.

After the interval we kicked off with Leong and Kerr and more showy violin pieces; this time from the concert rep of Fritz Kreisler.  This was followed by the return of Parker with the Chopin Ballade No. 4 in F minor.  It was very satisfying.

The final piece was what I had really come for.  It was the Strauss Vier letzte Lieder in a new arrangement for string quartet and piano by John Greer.  The “beyond borders” idea here perhaps that by the time these works were written Strauss was almost an exile in his own Germany.  Adrianne and Steven were joined for this by the New Orford String Quartet (Jonathan Crow, Andrew Wan, Eric Nowlin and Brian Manker).  It’s always interesting to hear orchestral songs in a reduced arrangement.  I’m a big fan of the Schoenberg versions of Mahler songs for example.  The lighter texture allows the singer to express without straining over a large orchestra and Adrianne Pieczonka certainly managed an emotionally charged and rather beautiful reading last night.  That said I did miss the colours of the orchestra despite the best efforts of Steven Philcox and some fine playing from the Orfords.  It all just sounded a bit hollow and not quite right.  I confirmed my feelings as soon as I got home by firing up the old Schwarzkopf/Szell recording.  I wonder whether it might not have been better to just go with piano?

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So, an interesting and varied concert that played to a pretty much packed Koerner Hall.  There is an audience for music in Toronto in the hot months.

Photo credits: Sean Howard

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