Tonight we heard one of the three Toronto Symphony orchestra concerts titled “Best of Tchaikovsky” at Roy Thomson Hall. While I’m not sure if I’d agree with the title (I can think of pieces I would prefer), if they’re playing Tchaikovsky? I’m there. And I will enjoy it, especially if they bring the level of commitment to the playing that we experienced tonight.
The evening was mostly Russian with a tiny bit of Canadian:
- The Talk of the Town (Andrew Ager)
- Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (Tchaikovsky)
- Variations on a Rococo Theme (Tchaikovsky)
- Symphony #5 (Tchaikovsky)
The opening Sesqui by Andrew Ager was a fascinating two minutes of darkly foreboding unison in the lower strings, some impressionistic swirling in the upper strings, and the promise of more in the last thirty seconds, making me think: why must it end so soon?
Speaking of Russians, we grabbed a copy of principal cellist Joseph Johnson’s CD of Russian cello sonatas, with one each from Rachmaninoff & Shostakovich, having heard him as soloist tonight in the Rococo Variations. It was a nice feeling even if it was bittersweet, with the record store scheduled to close later this month (go while you can!). On the way home it was a pleasure to bask in that rich cello sound in the car.
It was a happy collaborative experience, as the TSO, led by guest conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, sounded oh so sensitive in dialogue with JJ’s cello. This is the same conductor who led the Canadian Opera Company’s recent Tosca, a production where everyone seemed to be listening thoughtfully to one another, surely due to her solid leadership. I have to think we’re now in an era when conductors are less and less the people telling an orchestra what to do, and more and more listening to what they can do. Wilson has a unique presence at the podium. She has a solid stance that’s well-nigh unshakeable, a very athletic approach with her baton & arms. At the end of tonight’s concert there was no sign of anything resembling fatigue, her energy as inspiring at the end as when she began.
The Romeo and Juliet overture, with melodies that are so well known, did not contain any surprises. Indeed I thought Wilson was trying to avoid over-doing it, steering the orchestra in the direction of subtlety and unity rather than sentimentality and schmaltz.
But in contrast I felt she wore her heart on her sleeve in the big symphony. The tempi overall tended to the brisk side– which I prefer—with every note in place, every entrance crisp and clean. At times she would observe a rubato, a phrase expanded for pure emotional value. In the finale, especially the closing few minutes, the orchestra seemed to be enjoying themselves, like a horse given their head and allowed to run freely.
Tchaikovsky, Wilson & Johnson are back Thursday night.