Yuja Wang and Gimeno Conducts Bruckner. Such was the billing of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra program heard Thursday and Saturday in Roy Thomson Hall.
Necessarily brief, the tagline omitted mention of Magnus Lindberg, the Finnish composer whose Piano Concerto No. 3 was given its first Canadian airings. I wish I could say that the oversight was unjust, but this is another case of a premiere made substantial more by the performance than the music being performed.
Formerly a tough-as-nails modernist, Lindberg now numbers among the many who have returned to tonality, after a fashion. Like his comparably prolix Piano Concerto No. 2, which was programmed by the TSO in 2014, this 35-minute colossus pays tribute to Ravel, and even Gershwin in some big-city-lights episodes. There were also a few iterations of the B-A-C-H motif.
All to the good, one might suppose, but when the notes pour out in such unrelenting torrents, the references become more a source of frustration than coherence. Nor did the tonal orientation of the harmonic language offer any respite, as opaque cocktail dissonances amassed, often in the forte-to-fortissimo range. Responsibly written atonal music is more accessible by far.
Now I need to put on my newsman’s fedora and report that the audience cheered the concerto lustily on Saturday — so much so that the house lights were raised to put an end to the curtain calls. To be sure, Wang’s virtuosity, on display in cadenzas as well as tutti passages, deserved more than polite applause. That she consulted a tablet discreetly placed on the Steinway is no demerit. How could anyone memorize such stuff? Credit is also due to Gimeno and the TSO for a job well done.
The concert began with a Celebration Prelude by Janet Sit, a Canadian with degrees in music and zoology. Omega-Threes — the full title includes some odd punctuation marks — is by no means the only environmental piece in circulation these days, but it is distinctive in its appropriate and economical use of the orchestra (and especially percussion). The sudden end suggested that the composer might have had more to say than her three-minute limit allowed.
After a long intermission, Gimeno led us into another world with Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. His perspective on this Romantic masterpiece veers to the Classical, with vigorous pacing and a clear soundscape preferred. This is not say picturesque elements did not emerge in the solemn Andante and ready-for-the-hunt Scherzo. Cellos and violas spoke lucidly in the former and the brass made a brilliant sound in the latter. Trombones certainly asserted themselves in the finale.
The ensemble was generally good, but I was still left with the feeling that a third performance (I heard the second of two) would have yielded even better results. One option would be to perform Bruckner without a competing piece by Magnus Lindberg on the program and its inevitable consumption of rehearsal time. To wit: Yuja Wang + Gimeno Conducts Bruckner.
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