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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Good Vibrations At The TSO From The Boss To Be

By Arthur Kaptainis on April 6, 2018

 

Sir Andrew Davis conducts Sibelius (Photo: Jag Gundu)
Sir Andrew Davis conducts Sibelius (Photo: Jag Gundu)

What to call Sir Andrew Davis? Conductor laureate of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is official, although something like “two-year-boss-to-be” is tempting given his appointment as interim artistic director for 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Either way, Sir Andrew sent us home from Roy Thomson Hall in a hopeful frame of mind Thursday evening after a finely tooled performance of Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony.

Best was the first movement, its multitude of moving parts made clear with no loss of mystery. Horns could hardly have been more atmospheric at the start. Woodwinds answered nobly, and strings shimmered. The steady beat gave us the freedom to appreciate the mesmerizing thematic relations and savour the sonic beauties.

A light touch prevailed in the middle movement. Sir Andrew is not one for the dark side. There was dazzle at the start of the finale and drama in the reprise of the big theme, as well as some judicious pull-back to prevent the process from coming to a peak too soon.

Brass playing was glorious (I am not aware of a better-sounding section in Canada) and the famous hammer strokes of the final page were admirably unified. Perhaps something in grandeur was missing. But the interpretation was lucid and the playing beyond reproach.

Leading vigorously, ambidextrously and without a baton, Sir Andrew brought this three-movement work in at 30 minutes, a timing that does not quite satisfy the duration requirements of a second half. The hymn-like Intermezzo from Sången, a cantata by the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927), was offered as a prelude.

Ray Chen (Photo: Jag Gundu)
Ray Chen (Photo: Jag Gundu)

Before intermission, we heard Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which is not quite the hit it used to be. Taiwan-born Ray Chen, 29, reminded us of its heart-rending urgency with generous phrasing in the first movement and ample vibrato in the Adagio. Yet it was the brilliant finale that best suited his lean tone and agile bow technique. Solid accompaniment from Davis and the troops.

A natural communicator who speaks clearly from the stage, Chen rewarded the big ovation with Paganini’s Caprice No. 21, its songful and pyrotechnic elements given full value. Then came the Gavotte en Rondeau from Bach’s Partita No. 3. Chen’s approach was that of a creative artist rather than a cranker-out of textbook ornaments.

The evening began with a run-through of Mendelssohn’s The Fair Melusina Overture. Maybe Sir Andrew will find something beneath its surface in the repeat of Saturday evening (Roy Thomson Hall at 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday afternoon  (George Weston Recital Hall at 3 p.m.).

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

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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