Tahara, Royer and SPO play Schubert and Saint-Saëns

Tonight’s Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra was my first live experience of the ensemble, a return to live in person appearances featuring pianist Lisa Tahara conducted by music director Ronald Royer.

It’s a pleasant change of pace to have a concert relatively close to my home in Scarborough. Their website says it succinctly, as “Downtown Sound. Uptown.”

Conductor and Music Director Ronald Royer

Although we were to hear two of my favorite compositions tonight, namely Saint-Saëns 2nd piano concerto and Schubert’s 9th Symphony I was a bit hesitant, knowing that the works are difficult, possibly beyond the capabilities of a community orchestra.

And to make matters even more challenging, the SPO played at the Scarborough Citadel of The Salvation Army, a space with a remarkably clear acoustic. I’d want to hear at least another concert, sitting somewhere else, but from where I sat the sound was pristeen but a bit dry, which makes it a bit unforgiving. It’s ideal for a conductor such as Royer who seeks to mentor, improve and perfect his youthful players, even if they may find it a little scary at times, leaving them nowhere to hide.

But they seem to love playing there, and the audience ate it up.

The concerto is a piece I love so much even though lately it hasn’t been programmed anywhere nearby.

Its three movements build in speed and energy as we go on, from a meditative first movement to a second movement scherzo and a crazed tarantella for the finale. It’s a challenging concerto that is so much more than just a showpiece for a soloist, possibly the best thing Saint-Saëns ever wrote.

Did I mention that I like it? The performance was a thrill.

Pianist Lisa Tahara

Programming a concerto is usually a great idea I’ve seen in other regional orchestras, whereby one foregrounds the virtuoso soloist while the orchestra hides, playing a part that may not be nearly as difficult as a symphony. But this concerto is tougher than that, as the SPO provided excellent support to Tahara, including some challenging passages for the horn player and the timpanist executed perfectly. Her Yamaha instrument was not an ideal vehicle, not as beautiful as her playing. While its tone is brilliant up top as one might expect of a Yamaha, it’s somewhat clunky in the lower registers, even though her phrasing was elegant, light in the scherzo, her quick octaves marvelous to watch. And I was lucky to be sitting really close! On a night when I can’t deny that I was attracted by the popular repertoire choices, it’s fitting that Tahara offered as an encore the piece that might be the most popular piano solo of all, namely Clair de lune, in a thoughtful reading.

For the Schubert 9th, also a favorite of mine, the SPO rose to the occasion. Royer has some excellent ideas on how to make the piece sound good, getting the best out of his ensemble. In the middle movements we were going at a very quick pace, the phrases understated and tending towards softer dynamics, in the interest of getting the notes right: which was a brilliant strategy. It meant that when we came to climaxes they were effective, and the players were able to get through this huge long work.

For further information about the SPO, visit their website.

This entry was posted in Music and musicology, Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s