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SCRUTINY | TSO Bring Gravitas To Magnificent Mozart With Two Young Canadian Prodigies

By Arthur Kaptainis on January 12, 2017

TSO Magnificent Mozart concert at Koerner Hall. (Photo Jag Gundu)
TSO Magnificent Mozart concert at Koerner Hall. (Photo Jag Gundu)

Mozart@261

Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Peter Oundjian (conductor), Leonid Nediak (piano) and Kerson Leong (violin) at Koerner Hall. January 11.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has long prescribed Mozart as medicine for all that ails us in January. This year the annual festival (officially called Mozart@261) takes place at Koerner Hall, a midtown facility that accommodates a mere 1,135 posteriors but suits a 40-piece orchestra to perfection.

Not that the opening concert of Wednesday under music director Peter Oundjian was a small-scale affair. Strings and winds, with a touch of competitive spirit, made a dynamic thing of the first movement of the Symphony No. 40. Violins in the Andante captured both the winsome charm of hiccup figures and the romance of longer melodies. Doing without a baton, Oundjian kept vibrato chaste and expression pure.

We were firmly back in G Minor in the Minuet, a movement widely regarded as a prototype for the heavy-weather Scherzos of the century to come. This imposing performance put me in mind of Bruckner. Perhaps a few flaws could be heard in the rocket-fueled finale, but there was no shortage of energy. I was impressed especially by the turbulent feeling Oundjian maintained in the second theme, which can so easily be treated as a typical “Mozartian” expression of sweetness and light. Happily, the conductor opted for the richer second version of the symphony with clarinets (two players who would otherwise have had the night off). Taking the widely ignored second-half repeat of the finale might have given the entire conception even more gravitas.

TSO Magnificent Mozart concert at Koerner Hall. (Photo Jag Gundu)
TSO Magnificent Mozart concert at Koerner Hall. (Photo Jag Gundu)

Before intermission, we heard two Canadian prodigies in succession, although violinist Kerson Leong, 20, is perhaps better called a young soloist. He filled the room effortlessly in the Rondo K. 373 with a tone that spoke both clearly and with substance.

Leonid Nediak, 13, drew the grander assignment of the Piano Concerto No. 27 K. 595. Throughout the playing was lucid and nicely judged: Even the balance of left and right hands in the innocent finale suggested an awareness of the potential charm of that persistent six-eight accompaniment. The minor-mode second theme of the first movement had the right air of melancholy. Will his style in the Larghetto, poised as it was, gain something in articulatory variety in a few years? The trajectory of this artist is clearly upward.

Orchestral partnership was exact. As an encore to the Symphony No. 40 Oundjian offered the Ave Verum Corpus, a brief motet, as played by strings: a touching if surprising choice. TSO authorities believe this concert to be the first performed by the orchestra in Koerner Hall under its own auspices. There is a repeat on Thursday. Keep them coming.

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Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis

Arthur Kaptainis has been the classical music critic of the Montreal Gazette since 1986 and wrote for the National Post 2010-2016. His articles have appeared in Classical Voice North America and La Scena Musicale as well as Ludwig Van. Arthur holds an MA in musicology from the University of Toronto.
Arthur Kaptainis

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