As I mentioned in my review of Magic Flute from last night, Bernard Labadie is a busy guy. He’s been alternating between the COC’s Magic Flute (dress rehearsal Tuesday and opening night Thursday) and the Toronto Symphony’s Mozart @261 festival (concert Wednesday, concert tonight – Friday).
I had a look & a listen.
Sometimes I may be a bit reductive, a bit too scientific in how I want to approach a concert. But wow isn’t it remarkable to have the chance to make direct comparisons:
- Mozart last night and tonight
- The Canadian Opera Company orchestra (and their production of Magic Flute) and the Toronto Symphony
- The Four Seasons Centre and Koerner Hall
…because in both cases they were led by Bernard Labadie.
In fairness, it’s apples to oranges, as an opera performance isn’t the same as a symphony concert, an opera house isn’t the same as a concert hall, even if the conductor is the same.
No question about it, Labadie challenges the artists with whom he works. And so there were times when the singers weren’t in time. The three spirits in the quartet (with Pamina) in the latter portion of the opera, came decidedly apart from their conductor, who was driving his orchestra quickly, seemingly insensitive to the fact he was leading a performance featuring three children: who were off by about a beat for a good eight bars or more of messed up music. The children weren’t the only ones being pushed out of their comfort zone. I like it when an artist challenges their collaborators, but it has to be said: there are trade-offs. Sometimes the horn fluffed, especially with the COC orchestra. At times the strings sounded astringent and lifeless, especially the COC orchestra. At times the tempi were simply so quick as to make the music seem rushed and almost unintelligible.
The thing about this comparison is to notice what one can really say with confidence.
The COC orchestra sound so much better because of their venue, the acoustics of the Four Seasons Centre. It was really clear in this comparison that the COC orchestra are not as good as the TSO but we can’t usually hear that due to the mediocre acoustics at the Roy Thomson Hall. When you put the TSO into Koerner Hall suddenly you hear everything, and that means excellence.
And yet I wonder. Okay, the TSO sounded better than the COC orchestra. But both orchestras (plus the soloists) had mishaps, fluffs. Is it the style? Or was Mr Labadie given too much to do this week? Once the TSO came to the last item on the program, wow did they hit their stride: perhaps because they had enough rehearsal, and because this was the one piece everyone loves?
But I wish they’d play something else. Playing Mozart led by Labadie, it’s weird to say that it was like watching Tafelmusik or another historically informed band. Last week I heard the TSO play Mozart led by Peter Oundjian conducting them in the old way, which is to say, without the strictures & rigor of the historically informed approach. But tonight –comparing what I heard tonight to what I heard last week—I simply think Oundjian let them play as they are wont to play, with vibrato and passion, whereas Labadie seemed to take them out of their comfort zone. And where they know Oundjian’s beat really well, they’re still getting to know Labadie. It wasn’t until Symphony #38 that closed the program that they seemed fully comfortable playing Mozart, meaning his version of Mozart, that’s super fast, super taut & exposed: and were fully responding to Labadie. Koerner Hall exposes every wrinkle and fingerprint, and I have to say that it makes me want to hear them play Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn, or Schumann, which is to say, the great romantics using a chamber orchestra. This is an amazing orchestra but we can’t hear it in Roy Thomson Hall the way we can in Koerner Hall, so what a perverse thing, to then have them twisting themselves into knots in response to Labadie. In the Prague Symphony that closed the program we heard them really cut loose, the winds sparkling, the strings crisp and suddenly perfectly attuned to Labadie. I’m sure this was a great development opportunity, the challenge a new conductor posed with his different approach.
The program featured a pair of violin concerti, played by violinist Isabelle Faust on either side of the intermission. She opened with concerto #3. I was especially thrilled with the slow movement, both the sensuous accompaniment from the orchestra and the full tone from her violin. After intermission we heard concerto #1, including a wonderful cadenza to finish the concerto, a witty and extroverted eruption from the violin as Faust made us forget all our troubles, lost in the beauty of her sound.