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Concert review: Titanic pleasures from Ontario Philharmonic and Matt Haimovitz at Koerner Hall

By John Terauds on November 5, 2013

Cellist Matt Haimovitz prepares to perform with the Ontario Philharmonic on Tuesday night at Koerner Hall (John Terauds phone photo).
Cellist Matt Haimovitz prepares to perform with the Ontario Philharmonic on Tuesday night at Koerner Hall (John Terauds phone photo).

The Ontario Philharmonic made a powerful statement in the first of this season’s concerts at Koerner Hall on Tuesday night, emphatically reminding us that this is no poor cousin of Toronto’s finest symphony orchestras.

Longtime music director Marco Parisotto has slowly, steadily built this ensemble from the Oshawa Symphony into a noteworthy big-city orchestra.

The Philharmonic presented an ambitious programme convincingly performed: Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo (Hebraic Rhapsody), first heard in 1917, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the “Titan,” from 1888.

The guest soloist was Montreal-based Matt Haimovitz, who gave an impassioned, compelling interpretation that was less a show of virtuosic solo work than a series of short monologues within a greater musical play.

The Bloch work, which runs in one seamless stream, is a feast of orchestral colours. Within the relatively intimate confines of Koerner Hall and its remarkable acoustics, this piece washed us under an ocean of sound.

Sitting atop the extended stage in the first balcony, the colours were so bright that I frequently found them distracting, paying more attention to the woodwinds one moment, or the violins, instead of the star soloist.

But the overall execution of the music was winsome nonetheless.

Haimovitz must have enjoyed the experience of being among equals — not something a concerto soloist gets to feel very often — because he popped up in the cello section for the Mahler symphony.

The Mahler was shaped, paced and coloured by Parisotto with the care and assurance of a true master.

The composer poured all of his oversized musical ambitions into this, the first of 10 symphonies (the last one left unfinished). It’s a stewpot of ideas and emotions, brimming with depictions of nature, of fate, of people dancing to folk music, of despair and, ultimately, a swell of victory.

Mahler wrote for a big orchestra, but he also wrote an incredible amount of detail, much of it obscured in a typical large-concert-hall performance.

At Koerner Hall, these details came to life in a performance that, under Parisotto’s firm leadership, was direct, transparent and mesmerizing.

This is what makes for a memorable concert experience — the kind that we all wish we could enjoy more often.

John Terauds

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