SCRUTINY | Toronto Summer Music: A Popular Success

By Arthur Kaptainis on July 31, 2022

Toronto Summer Music 2022
(Photo: Lucky Tang)

Caribbean Carnival, OVO Fest, Toronto Summer Music. The comparison might seem farfetched, but there can be no doubt that TSM attracted enthusiastic crowds to Walter Hall for the last two evenings of its three-week-plus run. Artistic director Jonathan Crow announced 13,000 admissions — an impressive number at a time of year when many classical types are seated in Muskoka chairs.

The biggest hit on Friday, according to the applause-o-metre, was Mendelssohn’s Octet. This teenage masterpiece for strings is famed for its high spirits, aptly represented with Scott St. John in the first violin chair. Not that the gentle undulations of the Andante or the other interludes of calm were neglected. We heard a wonderfully textured performance that found a balance of individual enthusiasm and collective cohesion.

Other Friday highlights included a four-movement suite for violin and piano that Erich Wolfgang Korngold drew from his incidental music for Much Ado About Nothing — another youthful marvel. Barry Shiffman summoned a broad tone and easygoing Viennese spirit with like-minded Philip Chiu at the Steinway.

Chiu was also heard in the premiere of Barbara Assiginaak’s Mnidoonskaa, a suite of pieces intended to evoke the sounds (and even songs) of water striders, mosquitoes and flies. Richly pianistic, the music might have antecedents in Debussy and Ravel, notably in its use of trills, but it made an original effect. Chiu played it with poise after offering a high-energy spoken introduction. The composer, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, was not present to take a bow.

The other item was an arrangement (and abridgment) of Strauss’s tone poem Till Eulenspiegel by the slenderly remembered Austrian composer Franz Hasenöhrl. Some of the comic interplay of the original came through, but it is futile to suppose that a violin, clarinet, horn, bassoon and double bass, however well played, can create an approximation of a full orchestra.

The not-so-grand finale of Saturday offered a grab bag of pieces as performed by professionals, students and amateurs. We began with Murmur From Thin Places, a 10-minute effusion for strings and piano by Nicholas Denton Protsack, a native of Kelowna, B.C. Mostly dense and snarling, the score betrayed no sense of coherent harmonic motion, whether tonal, atonal or in-between. The composer was also the conductor, for better or worse.

The sixth of Dvorak’s Biblical Songs Op. 99 (Sarah Mole was the bright-voiced soprano) and the finale of the same composer’s Serenade Op. 44 for winds conveyed some rough-hewn exuberance. Crow and Andrew Wan (concertmaster of the MSO) made a witty case for three of Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for Two Violins with Chiu at the piano.

Alas, not much else — despite the hooting and hollering of the crowd — was really at a typical TSM level. Happily, the send-off was a finely-honed performance of the finale of Schubert’s String Quintet.

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