Violinist Jonathan Crow, with pianist Philip Chiu. Toronto Summer Music Festival, Walter Hall. July 31.
Toronto fans of classical music already know that the city acquired someone very special when Jonathan Crow became the concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra seven years ago. He wasted no time in extending his love of chamber music to this city, as well, introducing us to live performances with the New Orford String Quartet, of which he is a member, and, this year, becoming the third artistic director of the Toronto Summer Music Festival.
As a festival that fulfills a significant educational component during its three weeks, Crow, like his predecessor, Montreal violist Douglas McNabney, is leading by example, participating in numerous concerts. On Monday night at Walter Hall, he took top billing, in a recital of works for violin and piano chosen to reflect Canada’s principal colonial powers: England and France.
The concert was a fine reflection of his technical prowess and musicality. He chose as his collaborator Montreal-based pianist Philip Chiu, who was elegance personified at the keyboard—even though I frequently wished that Chiu’s playing had been a bit more forceful.
The programme opened and closed with late works by French composers Claude Debussy (his G minor Sonata for violin and piano) and Maurice Ravel (Sonata No. 2 in G Major). Both pieces show off everything a violinist can do, and both Crow and Chiu did so with pose and polish. Debussy’s probing sonorities were delivered with a burnished glow, while Ravel’s playful forays, especially in the jazzy second movement, pulsed with energy.
The Brits were represented by a candyfloss selection of five pieces from the 23 that Edward Elgar wrote for violin and piano, including “Salut d’amour,” and an E minor Sonata by Healey Willan, composed shortly after he emigrated to Canada after the start of the First World War.
Crow could show off his lighter side in the Elgar works, tossing them off with musical élan. Even though they were all short pieces, their arrangement provided a nice emotional arc to the set. The Willan Sonata is a bit of a turgid affair—very carefully structured with well-defined themes, it came across as a study in monochrome compared to the bright colours in the music surrounding it on the programme. Crow’s interpretation, although confident, also had a workmanlike quality to it, highlighting Willan’s repetitive musical gestures rather than trying to give them a bit of nuance.
Overall it was a satisfying recital, and a lovely showcase from three standpoints: for Crow the artist, the violin, and the pleasures of an assured collaboration with a fine pianist. In short, it captured the spirit of what the Toronto Summer Music Festival is all about.
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