Popular Tchaikovsky at the TSO

Handel speaks from beyond the grave to remind musicians how he helps pay the rent in a meme.

Ballet companies owe Tchaikovsky a similar debt, when families flock to the theatre for The Nutcracker.

Popularity can be problematic when it comes to critics, but thank goodness the public don’t really care. We’ll go see La Boheme or Carmen at the opera, just as we’ll see Swan Lake or Nutcracker, or indeed the last 3 symphonies of Tchaikovsky, overflowing with passionate melodies.

Tonight the Toronto Symphony offered the first of four concerts featuring his 1st Piano Concerto and the Symphony No.6.

The well-known concerto was given a highly original reading by Sergei Babayan, our soloist. He has a remarkable dynamic range, playing many parts softer than I’ve heard them before yet boldly bringing out the passages with fast octaves that conclude the outer movements.

Pianist Sergei Babayan

Dalia Stasevska was the guest conductor of the TSO, leading a brilliant reading of the orchestral part, to match Babayan’s delicate playing.

Conductor Dalia Stasevska

We began with Paradisfaglar II (Birds of Paradise II), a shorter work by Andrea Tarrodi.

Composer Andrea Tarrodi (photo: Jonas Bilberg)

While sometimes one finds composers putting clever titles with no apparent connection to what we hear, that’s not what we experienced this time, both in the colours of the orchestra and the occasional solos from violin and cello that seem to imitate bird-song, somewhere in the middle ground between music and noise. Tarrodi’s short piece made a magical beginning to the concert.

It may be heresy but the Pathetique symphony always reminds me of Glenda Jackson in The Music Lovers.

Glenda Jackson in Ken Russell’s The Music Lovers

The film’s over-the-top style matches the emotions lurking in the music, sometimes exultant, sometimes darkly depressed. Stasevska led a very quick reading of the symphony that thrilled the audience even if it wasn’t entirely to my liking. The TSO play wonderfully well these days, undaunted by whatever a conductor asks of them, very impressive.

The first two movements were superb, but I found that the last two movements were too quick for my taste, leaving little space for the nuances one has in a slower more thoughtful interpretation. But it’s still very exciting, and the audience ate it up.

The program is repeated Thursday-Friday-Saturday November 24-25-26.

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