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SCRUTINY | Verdi Works Well In Sinfonia Toronto Expansion

By Arthur Kaptainis on May 9, 2023

Nurhan Arman conducts Sinfonia Toronto (Photo courtesy of Sinfonia Toronto)
Nurhan Arman conducts Sinfonia Toronto (Photo courtesy of Sinfonia Toronto)

Franck: Piano Quintet in F Minor (arr. Nurhan Arman). Wayne Toews: Mu-Qu-La (Moonlit Lake). Verdi: String Quartet (arr. Lucas Drew). Sinfonia Toronto, Nurhan Arman, conductor. Jean-Philippe Sylvestre, piano. George Weston Recital Hall, May 6, 2023.

Few ensembles are as dedicated as Sinfonia Toronto to the art of the arrangement. On Saturday the 13-strong string orchestra presented two expanded chamber classics as the pillars of its season-ending concert in George Weston Recital Hall.

The successful case was Verdi’s String Quartet of 1873. Music director Nurhan Arman drew a lucid sound from the players. Cellos sang operatically in the trio of the scherzando third movement. Everyone was in shape for the fugal finale.

No one hearing this piece for the first time would have suspected its quartet origins. The program annotator was silent on how the arrangement by Lucas Drew differs from the established Arturo Toscanini version.

Before intermission, we heard Arman’s expansion of the César Franck Piano Quintet of 1880. This held promise, given the smouldering passion and symphonic breadth of the score.

Oddly, the pumped-up performance seemed to need more gusto rather than less, even though the solo lines of concertmaster Xiaohan Guo in the Lento were some of the most alluring of the evening. Pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre managed a degree of delicate expression in this movement, but overall his contribution lacked urgency. Despite the lacklustre applause, he insisted on giving a solo encore, the finale of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7, tamely done.

The program included two single-movement pieces in nostalgic mode by living composers, Mu-Qu-La (Moonlit Lake) by Wayne Toews of Saskatchewan and Mom’s Waltz by Irina Grafova, a Ukrainian. The latter was given as an encore.

Sinfonia Toronto players now use tablets rather than sheet music. (Sylvestre also was using a tablet, with a digital page-turner seated beside him.) Audiences were offered a QR code to scan rather than a paper program. I had the impression that few took the trouble — a situation that naturally encouraged applause between movements. A single sheet of paper, it seems to me, is a reasonable compromise that should satisfy environmentalists and traditionalists alike.


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