Toronto Summer Stoicism

Summer festivals can be a challenge.  Bayreuth may be the ne plus ultra for Wagner but you sit on hard seats as your reward for having traveled around the world.  Tonight’s Toronto Summer Music Festival concert (in Walter Hall, not the Bayreuth Festspielhaus) was a bit of an ordeal due to air conditioning that was on the fritz at the wrong time.  It led to some adventures for the string players trying to stay in tune.

The concert was ostensibly to honour Anton Kuerti although they didn’t explain the rationale for the progam or the players, other than to tell us that pianist Jane Coop –who played in every part of the program tonight—was a Kuerti student long ago. She told us that even now his teaching sometimes comes back to her when she’s playing.

In addition to the challenge posed by the heat & humidity most of the performers tonight seemed dressed for the usual air-conditioning, under layers of fabric. I spoke to a friend at the concert who –like me– had been almost chilly in the a-c at the last concert here, and so was dressed too warmly for the unexpected tropical heat.   I don’t envy anyone who took part, as this was service above & beyond.

There were four distinct sections to the program, each calling for a different kind of performance:

  • Solo piano, as Coop played the seven Beethoven Bagatelles op 33
  • Collaborative piano with violin, Coop and Barry Shiffman playing Mozart sonata K 304
  • Vocal music (again calling for collaborative piano & viola this time) as Laura Pudwell sang two Brahms songs with Coop & former TSM artistic director Douglas McNabney
  • Chamber music, as Coop, Shiffman & McNabney were joined by cellist Joseph Johnson for Schumann’s piano quartet op 47.

Coop showed us a different side of herself in each one.  In the Beethoven we saw a deadpan comedienne at work, serving up the oddball humour of Beethoven in these quirky little masterpieces, jewels that deserve to be better known.  Coop played up the sudden shifts of tone, the unexpected coups de théâtre emerging from passages of tranquility and elegance, that had us laughing out loud a few times.  I think Beethoven would have approved, and hope Kuerti liked it.

The Mozart violin sonata was especially poignant in the menuetto second movement.  Pudwelll’s plangent sound saturated the hall in the Brahms songs, with McNabney offering soulful sounds in the lower part of his instrument.


Mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell

After the interval I was reminded that Schumann used to be my favourite composer, someone that I believe isn’t played often enough.  The foursome of Coop, Johnson, McNabney & Shiffman each seized the stage for their solo moments, Johnson being particularly effective with his beautiful sound.

The Festival is coming to its close this weekend, concluding on Saturday (info).


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