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SCRUTINY | Big Crowd Gives Orchestra And Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet A Warm Welcome For Season Opener

By Arthur Kaptainis on September 21, 2023

Gustavo Gimeno conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Photos: left & bottom right: Gerard Richardson; top right: Allan Cabral)
Gustavo Gimeno conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Photos: left & bottom right: Gerard Richardson; top right: Allan Cabral)

Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Lili Boulanger: D’un matin de printemps. Gershwin: Concerto in F. Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring. Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano. Gustavo Gimeno, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall, Sept. 20, 2023.

As the 21st century progresses, the 20th century is turning into what the 19th used to be, a repository of surefire repertoire. On Wednesday, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra made a vivid case in Roy Thomson Hall for music written between 99 and 110 years ago.

The signature item was Stravinsky’s eternally modern The Rite of Spring. Always a conductor who values clarity, Gustavo Gimeno gave the 1913 ballet the X-ray treatment, with good results in the opening sequence, as the fine TSO winds intertwined to evocative and even lyrical effect.

Strings in the thrusting Augurs section were coherent as well as forceful and the Dance of the Earth that concludes Part 1 built a tremendous head of steam. There were many brilliant episodes highlighted by positive brass and percussion contributions. Was something in organic drama missing? I have a feeling that the repeat performance on Thursday will summon more atmosphere.

The big crowd (including a welcome cohort of young people in the choir loft) showed no signs of sharing my reservations. Applause was robust also for Gershwin’s 1925 Concerto in F as performed with alternating dreamy allure and jazzy vitality by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. This 62-year-old Frenchman was not outfitted with the most brilliant piano in the world, but made amends with playing that was lively and precise.

The orchestra under Gimeno also was on form in a score that is scarcely less remarkable than The Rite as an exercise in inventive orchestration. Associate principal trumpet Steven Woomert had almost as much to do as the pianist in the bluesy slow movement. He did it very well. Even concertmaster Jonathan Crow had a chance to demonstrate his aptitude for this style.

As a solo encore Thibaudet offered a luminous account of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte at a surprisingly upbeat tempo. Beginning the program was Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps, a five-minute tone poem of 1918 that deploys a huge orchestra to make delicate impressionistic effects.

TSO seasons used to start with the national anthem. The launch on this occasion was an earnest address by the orchestra’s CEO, Mark Williams, including a land acknowledgement.

Still, the energy in the room was palpable. Not all the symphonic news these days is positive. The TSO is now in Year 101. It appears to be here to stay.


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