Oundjian, TSO: Beethoven and Rachmaninoff

It’s been roughly a decade now that Peter Oundjian has been the Music Director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a time of renewal if not rebirth for the ensemble & its audience.  If tonight’s concert is any indication they’re headed in the right direction.

What one needs is commitment, a sense of occasion, rather than indifference or inconsistency.   On a night including Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, I found myself asking: what was the occasion?   My kind host (who offered me a ticket) said that it was simply his  first Thursday night concert of the season.  That’s surely what one wants to experience: that any concert in the series seems special.

There was indeed magic tonight.

Young Daniil Trifonov got us off to a good beginning with a subtle reading of the Rhapsody, a familar work that benefits from an understated approach such as that favoured by young Trifonov, introduced a a multiple-prize winner in his early 20s.  When he arrived on the stage he was so enthusiastic that after shaking hands with concertmaster Jonathan Crow, he looked ready to shake hands with the whole orchestra.  But appearances are deceiving.  While Trifonov has a guileless look to him, don’t be fooled.  His playing shows sophistication and depth beyond his years.  The first several variations were all underplayed, the deep emotions lurking in this piece presented with a straight face.  When the piece begins to wear its heart on its sleeve, there was as a result lots of room for growth, a natural organic expansion.

Trifonov added a very apt encore, another Rachmaninoff piece based on violin, this time his transcription of the Gavotte from Bach’s partita in E.  While Trifonov began with the Rachmaninoff, like a genuine virtuoso, he elaborated this already challenging piece into something even more difficult. It was one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in awhile.

And what do you know, when i looked on youtube i found him playing the piece as an encore at another concert.  While this is awesome i swear he played it better –more meaningful, greater dynamic contrast– here in Toronto tonight.  

I was overdue to hear Beethoven’s 9th.  With Franz Bruggen’s passing in August I’ve been listening to his historically informed performance (“HIP”) of the 9th in the car, and now Christopher Hogwood has also died this week.  It’s ironic that the old fashioned Beethoven I heard as a child and in previous performances by the TSO at Massey Hall –Beethoven on modern instruments–is not one I hear so often, supplanted in my mind & record collection by the new generation of H.I.Performers + appropriate instruments.

Yet I have to think that the H.I.P. movement has informed the approaches of conductors such as Oundjian as well, considering his brave tempi in this performance.  This was most noticeable in the finale, one of the fastest versions I’ve ever encountered.  It held together wonderfully well, aiding the singers, and more or less lifting the roof off the place with the help of the ever reliable Mendelssohn Choir.

The TSO will be repeating the program Friday at 7:30 & Saturday at 8:00 at Roy Thomson Hall.

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4 Responses to Oundjian, TSO: Beethoven and Rachmaninoff

  1. Marietta says:

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted
    to say excelleent blog!

  2. cathyk says:

    where was the joy? seriously.

    • barczablog says:

      Where was the joy? on the face of the young Russian pianist for starters, even though his head was down.

      I must say, though that i am very conflicted about Roy Thomson Hall. I feel that the players can get a little lost in that big stage space, so that it’s not always possible to feel a connection, at least not the way you could in Massey Hall, where it’s so intimate. The Mendelssohn Choir at the back feel as though they’re in another timezone, which makes the co-ordination Oundjian achieved remarkable under the circumstances. Oundjian’s enthusiasm –at times resembling a missionary’s zeal–is precisely what the orchestra needs at this time, a truly larger than life personality. I also saw some genuine warmth between the soloists (from my angle i could only really see the men, who did not do the cold impersonal thing you sometimes see). But the space is cold, in a colour scheme that suggests ice & dead rock rather than passion & life. Thank goodness the music then fills the space, bringing it to life.

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