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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Solid Showing By Gustavo Gimeno In Suspect TSO Program

By Arthur Kaptainis on June 29, 2019

TSO, Gustavo Gimeno
TSO with Gustavo Gimeno, June 28 (Photo: Stuart Lowe)

More than 16 months after his under-the-radar Toronto Symphony Orchestra debut, Gustavo Gimeno returned to Roy Thomson Hall Friday as music-director-to-be, handily establishing his basic qualifications, but leaving certain larger questions unanswered. Elegant stick work, yes, but where do we go from here?

The problem resided in a program that did not give the 43-year-old Spaniard much scope to express a musical personality. The most substantial item after intermission was Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite of 1945, which of course is less of a canvas than the complete ballet of 1910. Some argue that the original score has its undistinguished “ballet” patches but animating those sections is an eminently valuable thing for a future music director to do.

Well, enough crabbing on that subject. What we heard was very fine. The portentous opening in the lower strings was done at a whisper and the Dance of the Princesses was fresh and lively. Woodwind playing was evocative in the Chorovod sequence. Using the score, as is his manner, Gimeno led this with subtle, even minimal, gestures. It is a good sign if the “whack” you know is coming at the start of the Infernal Dance still manages to surprise you. The conductor put down his baton to caress the lullaby, at least at first, and then guided the finale to a suitably galvanizing climax. Brass, minus a few blips, were in good form.

Gustavo Gimeno, Jonathan Crow, TSO
Gustavo Gimeno leads the TSO with Jonathan Crow. (Photo: Jag Gundu)

Before this, we heard a good-natured performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (“Classical”). The finale, after a properly tipsy Gavotte, was a virtuoso riot of zesty rhythm. No problems here. All the same, I wonder if a real classical symphony, rather than a parody, was what the occasion called for.

Opening the program, oddly, was the Sibelius Violin Concerto of 1905, with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow in the title role. The idea, apparently, was to make a statement about Gimeno’s collaborative good intentions.

He did demonstrate his bona fides as an accompanist, drawing strong, symphonic sounds without overwhelming the soloist. Still, the performance left something to be desired. A player of pure rather than gritty tone, Crow soared in the mountain air of the opening bars and spun out the slow movement beautifully. There were signs of struggle, however, in the first-movement cadenza and uncharacteristic lapses elsewhere. The repeats of Saturday and Sunday will probably go better.

It needs to be noted that the substantial crowd gave Gimeno (and Crow) a Raptors-class reception, flooding the hall with cheers. One gentleman stood and shouted “bravo” before the start of the Prokofiev. Many stayed for an onstage chat bringing together Crow, Gimeno and TSO administrative boss Matthew Loden. At ease in accented English, the conductor said the necessary things about encouraging new Canadian pieces and hinted at his interest in joining forces with other orchestras to commission works by international heavyweights.

A pointed question from the audience concerned how he would change the TSO in his first 12 months (presumably after his start as music director in September 2020). This was a toughie, since it implied that there might be a need for change.

First, we recognize what is already good. The only way to preserve those qualities is “aiming for better, always.” The process, he cautioned, might take more than 12 months. Very well, maestro. But I am not a patient man.

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

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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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