Mozart @262 Festival. Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Bernard Labadie at Roy Thomson Hall, January, 10.
One of the good things about January in the GTA is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s annual Mozart festival. It got off to a spirited start Wednesday in Roy Thomson Hall under the direction of our winter Mozart-meister, Bernard Labadie.
The program comprised back-to-back masterpieces. The Symphony No. 39, better known, was better done. Dotted figures in the Andante con moto were courtly, and the woodwind trio of the Menuetto could hardly have been more ingratiating. But the interludes of respite were situated in a grand and resilient overall conception with incisive phrases, vigorous strong beats and clearly layered sonorities.
Strings by my eye count numbered 10-8-6-5-4, a reasonable complement for Mozart. I would have preferred the heft of a half-dozen more. I also suspect that side-by-side (rather than divided) violins would have made a stronger impression in the first movement. Perhaps “even stronger” would be a happier turn of phrase, for there was strength to begin with.
Labadie conducts seated now, after a battle with lymphoma, and does not use a baton. With his long wingspan, he retains all the command he needs. At points in the symphony (which he conducted from memory) even his waggling fingers had expressive significance. The players did not rise after the first curtain call, a gesture of respect.
Before intermission Labadie led the Gran Partita, a wonderful seven-moment score that demands more than 45 minutes of concentration from a dozen winds (pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns, bassoons and four horns) and a double bass. Not many orchestras take the trouble and the TSO deserves credit for doing so.
There were many felicities in this account. The floating oboe of Sarah Jeffrey in the Adagio variation of the penultimate movement made a magical effect. But in general the tempi seemed too regular and the dynamics too narrow to do full justice to the work. I suspect the squad (whose members could have been listed by name in the program) will nail the repeat on Saturday.
Attendance was healthy for a program lacking a star soloist. Perhaps all that aggressive TSO ticket discounting is attracting newcomers: There was applause between every movement.
Pre-curtain and intermission announcements are not normally items of interest but I did notice an unusually aggressive “three-minute call” some eight or nine minutes before the music actually began, coupled with a threat not to admit latecomers. The tone put me in mind of an airport where our peace is disturbed by “last calls” for flights that do not concern us. Lighten up, RTH. This is a concert.