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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Concert review: Energy trumps finesse as Toronto Symphony kicks off Mozart festival

By John Terauds on January 11, 2014

Ignat Solzhenitsyn conductrs the Toronto Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday evening (Josh Clavir photo).
Ignat Solzhenitsyn conducts the Toronto Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday evening (Josh Clavir photo).

It is now a city tradition that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will welcome in a new year with a mini Mozart Festival, laying out a different mix of the great Austrian’s appealing music to appreciative audiences.

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

Saturday night’s opening concert in Mozart@258 played a rich programme to a nearly full and politely enthusiastic house. The guest conductor, Ignat Solzhenitsyn, was also the guest soloist, borrowing a page from the period-performance universe and conducting Mozart’s B-flat Major Piano Concerto No. 18, K456, from the keyboard.

To open, Solzhenitsyn led the Overture to the opera La clemenza di Tito, and, to close, Symphony No. 39, K543.

Everything was done well. The half-size modern orchestra (in keeping with Mozart period style) was in fine form. Solzhenitsyn conducted from the floor, from memory. He played the piano with a fluid clarity as well as with forthright energy. There was a spiritedness to his interpretations that bubbled with energy and lively rhythms.

These are all good things. But there was also a business to Solzhenitsyn’s approach that was the aural equivalent to walking into one of those over-decorated rooms where a designer has added patterned wallpaper here, a vignette of shiny baubles there, and piles of colourful accent cushions on every upholstered surface.

Symphony No. 39, in particular, sounded like it needed judicious editing, so that the progress of Mozart’s musical ideas wouldn’t keep getting lost in a thicket of orchestral colour and texture.

Each one of the three pieces on the programme is dramatic in and of itself. The slow movement of the piano concerto, beginning, unexpectedly in a minor key, is one of the most compelling Mozart wrote. The symphony is a brilliant construct, full of playfulness as well a serious ideas.

There are many reasons to go for broke when presenting this music, adding spice and volume to help the music stand out in our noisy world. But there are equally strong arguments to be made in favour of keeping it simple — of presenting it with finesse instead of boldness.

We’ll see how the Mozart festival continues when music director Peter Oundjian arrives in town for next week’s installments.

In the meantime, the Toronto Symphony and Solzhenitsyn repeat the programme on Sunday afternoon at George Weston Recital Hall — one of Toronto’s finest concert venues, especially for music like Mozart’s. You’ll find the 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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