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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Israel Philharmonic Under Mehta Deserves A Full House

By Arthur Kaptainis on October 29, 2017

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with Zubin Mehta (Photo: Nick Wons)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with Zubin Mehta (Photo: Nick Wons)

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with Zubin Mehta (conductor) at Roy Thomson Hall. Saturday, Oct. 28. 

Good to see the normally empty choir loft packed with listeners Saturday at Roy Thomson Hall. This concert by the touring Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta was, predictably, sold out. While many undoubtedly came to support the home nation of the ensemble, they got a great night of music in the bargain.

The program coupled Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé Suite No. 2 and Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, both lavish showpieces, however unalike in aesthetic impulse. Before intermission, we heard the Ravel in a seductive performance that seemed to move all the more inevitably forward for the daringly slow tempos that Mehta (conducting from memory) adopted.

String lines in the Daybreak were exquisitely drawn, and the touches of birdsong were spot-on. It would be hard to imagine more subtle sighing from the violins in the Pantomime, and the flute shimmered playfully. Climaxes in the final section lacked nothing in fervour — nor anything in lucid balance. This was a fine frenzy indeed.

The execution was comparably accomplished in Strauss’s 45-minute exercise in heroic autobiography. There have been more dynamically varied opening sequences: Mehta seemed content with a moderate roar. But the nattering of the critics brought a smile to my face (even though I belong to the genus being caricatured) and the love duet between orchestra and solo violin was wonderfully sustained. Concertmaster David Radzynski played in a warm, amply vibrated style that created an affirmative rather than deferential portrait of The Hero’s Companion.

After a stately battle sequence, there was a masterly sampler of self-quotations and a conclusion that exuded nostalgic reflection on a life well lived. While this redoubtably German tone poem of 1898 is not an obvious choice for an Israeli orchestra, it might be a score with which Mehta, 81, can identify. He has, after all, had a long and productive career complete with (to quote the section titles) Adversaries, Fulfillment and Works of Peace.

While any opportunity to hear a great orchestra is to be treasured, Mehta lent a special glow to the evening. As he approaches his final year at the head of the Israel Philharmonic — having reasoned that 50 years is a pretty good run — the native of Mumbai has the look of one of the noble Roman emperors who survived middle age. His walk to the podium is steady and dignified; his baton technique remains a marvel of economy.

Witness the encore: Little rapier gestures and well-timed glances produced a boisterous rhythm in Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance Op. 48 No. 8. The sonority, again, was both balanced and sumptuous. Sometimes the old-fashioned configuration of divided violins (with violas stage left and cellos and double basses stage right) creates problems. Not tonight.

If there was a downside to the concert, it was the simplistic suite drawn from music for the movie Footnote by Amit Poznansky. One expects better on a major tour. 

The crowd was enthusiastic. Some stood as Mehta first took the stage — conveniently, as it turned out, since the proceedings began with the Canadian and Israeli national anthems. The concert was presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which visited Israel last season. What a fine thing it would be to see a full house or two for our hometown band.

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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
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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