The TSO’s opening concert of the season at Roy Thomson Hall was quite boldly conceived. Basically hand the evening over to the powerhouse duo of soprano/conductor Barbara Hannigan and violinist/conductor John Storgårds and see what they come up with. It was an excitingly eclectic programme which produced some great performances but a sadly disappointing turn out.
With O Canada disposed of, Hannigan conducted a red in tooth and claw Egmont Overture. Nothing subtle about this but very enjoyable and a great set up for her return with Storgårds to perform Dutilleux’ Sur le même accord, described as a “Nocturne for Violin and Orchestra”. It’s a sort of lyrical, and often quite minimalist, conversation between the solo violin and parts of the orchestra; all built around one chord (hence the title). It’s very lovely in places and has a complexity all its own. I think I would have to listen to it a few more times to fully get it. The first half concluded with Hannigan conducting Haydn’s Symphony no. 96 in D Major. I love these late Haydn symphonies. They are so compact. There’s a wealth of musical idea packed into a short time span. The final movement is particularly fun with a building of momentum to a climactic flourish at the end. Highly kinetic conducting from Hannigan and very fine playing from the orchestra.
After the break Storgårds was on the podium for Brett dean’s setting of Matthew Jocelyn’s reworking of fragments from Hamlet; And once I played Ophelia, sung of course by Barbara Hannigan. The version we heard last night was for a small string orchestra (there’s also a string quartet version). The five movements (not really movements as such; more just breaks in mood and tempo) are quite varied and very demanding on the singer. It’s also a very varied relationship between the voice and the strings; sometimes complementary, sometimes apparently in opposition and others just kind of disconnected. It keeps one off balance a bit which is probably apt. Perhaps we can never really know the music just as we can never really know Ophelia. I really want to hear the string quartet version. I have this feeling that a bit more sparseness might bring out the relationship between the voice and the strings more clearly.
The last piece on a generous programme was Sibelius’ Symphony no.3 in C Major conducted by Storgårds. It’s less high romantic than the better known second symphony. It’s more restrained and tauter though still with all that redolence of northern forests that Sibelius always evokes in me. The final movement is especially fine, building from a not very exuberant scherzo through fragmentary quotes from earlier in the work to a grand finish with C major chords from the brass. Storgårds conducting style is much more restrained than Hannigan’s but it produced equally fine work from the orchestra.
All in all a very satisfactory evening that will be repeated on Saturday at 8pm.
Photo Credit: Jag Photography… more photos to come later