Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Daniil Trifonov (soloist) and Peter Oundjian (conductor) at Roy Thomson Hall, Saturday.
“Celebrating Peter Oundjian,” reads the title page of the printed program for the final concerts of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra season. This mission does not preclude the presence in Roy Thomson Hall of some very good pianists, including the Russian A-lister Daniil Trifonov, who on Saturday delivered a Rach 3 to remember.
But second things first. After intermission, we heard Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the inevitable Ravel orchestration. This is a great showpiece for individuals, sections and (in The Great Gate of Kiev) the whole shebang. Many were the highlights. I cannot remember hearing warmer or smoother solos in Bydlo (by a trombonist, playing euphonium) or The Old Castle (by the saxophonist).
Both numbers were remarkable also for their rich atmosphere, unforced tempi and subtle interplay of parts. The weighty brass of Catacombs resolved evocatively into the shimmering strings of Cum mortuis in lingua mortua. Oundjian gave us an interpretation of the multifaceted masterpiece, not just a performance.
This all-Russian program started with Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmilla, taken briskly enough but not with music-wrecking haste. Then Trifonov entered to cheers from a nearly full house that might have included a few fans of Russian descent.
Imagine the reaction afterwards. Rarely does the filigree of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 emerge with such consistent (even persistent) clarity.
Should this elaboration be in the foreground? One might concoct an argument to the contrary, but all those notes glowed handsomely. Tempo changes in the Intermezzo sounded spontaneous. Phrasing, whether lyrical and or dramatic, was true to the arch-romantic idiom. Strings were rich yet proportioned. Everywhere Oundjian maintained a fine balance.
The finale evoked the inevitable standing ovation. As an encore, Trifonov offered a hypnotically peaceful treatment of the middle movement of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8. I see that he is playing the whole thing next February in Carnegie Hall. Worth the journey, I should say.