The main event in last night’s programme at the TSO was the first act of Die Walküre in concert performance but it was preceded by The Ride of the Valkyries and, more substantially (if not louder) Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra Op.6. It’s an interesting piece; post tonally expressionist with obvious homages to both Wagner and, especially, Mahler. Sir Andrew gave it one of the best introductions of the kind that I have heard; situating it not just in the Viennese musical lineage but also drawing helpful parallels with the visual arts; Klimt, Kokoschka etc. He also produced a reading of great clarity from the orchestra. It’s easy for a big piece of this kind to dissolve into a sort of aural mush and thereby give the “I don’t like this modern stuff” crowd ammunition that it’s just “noise”. Here the various strands, the references and even the musical jokes of the three movements were clearly delineated. Lovely stuff.
There’s much to like in this year’s unfussy TSO Messiah. It’s not bloated. For most of the piece conductor Johannes Debus deploys around thirty strings, chamber organ, harpsichord, oboes and bassoon. Trumpets and timpani are added for the grand moments later in the piece. He even manages to get quite a delicate sound out of the largish (100+) Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The delicacy is a recurrent thread. That and a really bouncy sense of rhythm. One could dance to Debus’ Handel.
Last night’s TSO performance of Britten’s War Requiem was a bit of a mixed bag. There were things to like but, overall, I was not greatly moved; which I expect to be by this work, and it seemed like a very long evening for one work of modest length.
Let’s start with the positives.Tatiana Pavlovskaya was as good a soprano soloist as I have heard in this piece. She sang with enough power to be a distinct voice in all but the very densest sections of the music while maintaining an admirable sweetness of tone without the almost customary screechiness. The Toronto Children’s Chorus was excellent. Toby Spence’s diction was top notch with every word clear. There was some really nice playing from the chamber orchestra, especially the strings. The last fifteen minutes from the blood curdling Libera Me to “let us sleep now” had the right balance of terror and lyricism though, even here, there could have been more drama. Where was the frisson at “I am the enemy you killed my friend”? Continue reading →
Wouldn’t that make a really good title for a pipe tune? But that aside Peter Oundjian is marking the end of his long run as Music Director of the TSO with a series of three Beethoven 9ths with Kirsten MacKinnon, Lauren Segal, Andrew Haji, Tyler Duncan and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir joining the TSO. I caught the second yesterday evening. It’s always a bit odd listening to a piece one has been familiar with for years. Will I hear or learn something new tonight? Will this performance probe the nature of the piece like I have never heard it probed? The Tafelmusik performance and recording of this piece did just that. I felt I was hearing it for the very first time. Alas, the only new thought I had last night was about how repetitive certain sections are. So there it was, an OK run through but no more. The soloists were fine, though perhaps possessing a weight of voice better suited to Tafelmusik at Koerner than the TSO in full cry in the unforgiving sonic deserts of Roy Thomson. I did think Ms. MacKinnon and the sopranos of the choir managed the fiendishly high setting of their part (probably a good job that Beethoven didn’t have to listen to complaints from his sopranos) very well. Nice work from the piccolo accompanying them too. Otherwise it was a bit unremarkable though that didn’t stop the obligatory idolatry from the RTH audience. Heaven knows what would happen if they ever heard a truly great performance…
Bramwell Tovey and the Vancouver Symphony were in town last night for a one night stand at Roy Thomson Hall. My reason for going was primarily to see Marion Newman sing Ancestral Voices; a work composed for her by Tovey. It’s the composer’s contribution to the sesqui and it deals with the Dominion of Canada’s troubled relationship with the original peoples of this land. The four movements trace an arc from an imagined pre colonial “Arkady” cleverly using a Keats text that deals with a clearly not Canadian imagined state of nature through to Charles Mair’s The Last Bison; a very early warning of what happens when Man and Nature get out of balance. Then comes the most chilling part; an excerpt from a letter in the government archives about residential schools”…separate, isolate, educate; dominate, assimilate; Sow the seeds and forcibly, effectively; Kill the Indian in the child.” It concludes with fragments of letters from Harper and Trudeau cut with parts of the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples.
I went to Roy Thomson Hall last night to hear an all Vaughan Williams program conducted by Peter Oundjian. It’s not really my thing but there was a fine quartet of soloists lined up for the Serenade to Music.
Things got going with the Fantasia on “Greensleeves” which was perfectly OK if a bit hackneyed. There was a decent account of the Concerto for Oboe and Strings with Sarah Jeffrey as the soloist. Then there was the Serenade. For some reason the soloists were lined up with the choir (the Elmer Iseler singers) behind the orchestra. The result was sonic mush and textual porridge. I caught exactly one word of the text; “stratagems” for what it’s worth. The rest was not recognisable as English, let alone understandable. And, of course, it was too dark to read the supplied text. This despite soloists; Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan, who are consistently excellent with text. This is becoming very annoying. As often as not when I go to see the TSO do vocal works the soloists are either inaudible or incomprehensible. I know the hall is difficult but the performance of the Ryan Requiem last week showed that it is possible to showcase singers. I think it’s really unfair to audiences and singers alike. Anyway, I was so fed up that I left at the interval.
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.