Christina Volpini: deep field: Celebration Prelude; Ligeti: Atmosphères; Wagner: Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin; Haydn: Symphony No. 39 “Tempesta di mare”; Unsuk Chin: subito con forza; Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3. Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Gustavo Gimeno, conductor, Yefim Bronfman, violin. Roy Thomson Hall, October 12-15, 2022. Tickets here.
Sometimes orchestras veer away from the durable one-two-three formula of overture, concerto and symphony. Gustavo Gimeno on Wednesday oversaw a largely successful experiment with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in Roy Thomson Hall.
There were a few tweaks. The concerto, Beethoven’s Third for piano, came not in the middle but at the end, a placement that had the effect of redoubling the appreciation of the crowd for the soloist, Yefim Bronfman. One might suppose this old pro to have said all he has to say about a score this standard, but the impression was of spontaneity and exploration governed by a strong feeling for structure and sense of style.
His touch was firm in the Largo but glowing; dabs of rubato in the muscular outer movements never disrupted the flowing line. Cadenzas were mesmerizing. Gimeno led a big, symphonic accompaniment in which the winds were allowed to speak. Nice timpani, especially in the finale.
There was a symphony, Haydn’s No. 39 in G Minor, subtitled “Tempeste di mare,” heard before the break. First and last movements were suitably fast and frenetic, but violins sounded rough. The TSO is easier to like at full strength.
Such was the staffing — 14 first violins and 12 seconds — for György Ligeti’s Atmosphères of 1961 and the Prelude to Act 1 of Wagner’s Lohengrin, run together to create an 18-minute diptych. Broadly, the shimmering tonality of the latter resolved the nebulous dissonance of the former, but there was much more to this fascinating presentation.
Somehow, Gimeno established both character and momentum in the avant-garde classic, which reached a wide audience as part of the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stasis and motion became interdependent to the point of identity. The Wagner also was finely balanced and coaxed steadily forward to a rapturous climax, marked by wonderful cymbal crashes.
Just why Atmosphères sounded so masterly and Christina Volpini’s deep field — a celebration prelude heard in its premiere — came across as a handbook of modernist devices is not a question to be answered in a single review. There was another contemporary work with a lower-case title, Unsuk Chin’s subito con forza, a five-minute 2020 tribute to Beethoven that seemed to border on parody. One had the sense that Gimeno got everything he could out of it.
The conductor politely requested no applause between Ligeti and Wagner. The audience complied. There was, however, an ovation after the first movement of Beethoven, which Bronfman encouraged by taking a bow. Well, what the heck.
There are repeat performances Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 8 p.m.
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