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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Concert review: A night of fine Russian chemistry from Toronto Symphony and Kirill Gerstein

By John Terauds on May 15, 2013

Kirill Gerstein performs with the Toronto Symphony and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero on Wednesday at Roy Thomson Hall (Josh Clavir photo).
Kirill Gerstein performs with the Toronto Symphony and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero on Wednesday at Roy Thomson Hall (Josh Clavir photo).

Familiar favourites sell concert tickets. But as I sat listening to an uncommonly fine performance on Wednesday by Kirill Gerstein, conductor Giancarlo Guerrero and the Toronto Symphopny of the most familiar of piano concertos — Peter Ilytch Tchaikovsky’s First — I wondered: Were people appreciating the unfamiliar in this interpretation?

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

The Roy Thomson Hall audience was warmly appreciative of Gerstein’s easy virtuosity and lyrical playing. He made this old warhorse sound fresh and full of life.

Most special to my ears was the exact compatibility between orchestra and soloist, something not even the finest and most seasoned performers can take for granted. Guerrero and Gerstein were on the same page, and it added an extra bit of chemistry to the already fine musicmaking.

Tchaikovsky’s Concerto dates from 1875, and is both a vehicle for the virtuoso pianist and an emblem of Romantic-era expression in music. We go home humming the melodies, but it’s really in the details under the melodies where the music comes to life. This is where it can soar, or sink.

Gerstein held up his end of the bargain with an overall sparkle that, once lit by the crashing chords that open the piece, crackled away until the finale. Guerrero goosed and coaxed the Toronto Symphony players into following suit, and I heard things I’d never heard before, including some gentle dancing in the second movement.

It is the search for this sort of interpretation that keeps me coming back to the concert hall week after week.

Wednesday’s programme was a short Toronto Symphony Afterworks affair, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and ending less than 90 minutes later. The orchestra players arrived on stage in their more casual attire — plain black shirts, trousers and dresses. Patrons could bring a drink along to their seat, and CBC Radio’s Tom Allen was our breezy, witty host.

It was all so very howyadoin? casual, but the artistry on display was as serious as could be.

Wednesday’s companion piece was the Russian Easter Festival Overture by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It’s a bit of a sprawl that tries to pick up momentum, but keeps bogging down. It’s not the world’s finest composition, but it is a fabulous showcase of an orchestra’s — and a conductor’s — abilities.

It was a treat to see and hear Guerrero in charge of such a tight, beautifully balanced ensemble.

These two Russian pieces repeat on Thursday and Saturday nights alongside the 1943 Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók — truly a symphonic showpiece. Given what we heard on Wednesday night, this should be one of the highlights of the season.

You can find all the concert details here.

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Note that Kirill Gerstein, one of the great young pianists of the day, returns to Toronto on Dec. 8 for a solo recital at Koerner Hall that showcases both his jazz as well as classical backgrounds. Details here.

John Terauds

 

 

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, the founder of Musical Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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