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SCRUTINY | Violin Concerto Tops In Sinfonia Toronto Evening Of Premieres

By Arthur Kaptainis on October 23, 2023

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

Sinfonia Toronto. Louis Sauter: Regard de l’anniversaire XXV; Frank Horvat: Magnificent Roots; Otar Taktakishvili: Violin Concerto No. 2 (Elisso Gogibedaschwili, soloist); Sarasate: Zigeunerweisen (Gogibedaschwili, soloist); Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (version for strings). Nurhan Arman, conductor. George Weston Recital Hall, Oct. 21, 2023.

Sinfonia Toronto opened its 25th season Saturday night in George Weston Recital Hall with a celebratory potpourri of premieres, including the least likely of all debutants, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which was heard in a reduction by Sreten Krstić, former concertmaster of the Munich Philharmonic.

This is far from the first strings-only arrangement Sinfonia music director Nurhan Arman has offered his audience, but it is among the most daring. How would this masterpiece sound, stripped of its distinctive woodwind, brass and timpani colours?

Reasonably well is the cautious-sounding but unavoidably equivocal response. The players made a strong statement in the opening bars, and Arman, with his vigorous conducting style, managed to sustain tension in the development. The oboe solo was transferred, naturally, to the violin, and played by the concertmaster.

The Scherzo came off best, its pizzicato passages and the rapid-fire fugal imitations of the Trio supplying plenty of textural variety. Even the brass fanfares of the second movement and finale could be aurally surmised from the application of extra bow pressure. Was there an energizing element of Beethovenian struggle in the determined effort of 13 players to sound symphonic? Possibly. Still, this first Canadian performance, interesting as an experiment, did not have the stamp of a complete success.

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

There could be no reservations before intermission about the Canadian premiere of the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Otar Taktakishvili (1924-89). A student of Shostakovich, this Georgian composer shared some of the master’s penchant for quirky contrasts of bitter and sweet, albeit with a simpler taste for romance in the slow movement.

Elisso Gogibedaschwili, an Austrian born in 2000 and frequent flyer with Sinfonia Toronto, played the soaring high-position melodies with suitable intensity. Sparks flew in the finale. Written expressly (and well) for a string orchestra, the 17-minute score of 1985 deserves a place in the repertoire. It is full of invention, including makeshift percussion from tapping bows. (Only the double bassist observed the indication. Violinists made amends by snapping their fingers.)

Anyone who did not notice Gogibedaschwili’s naturally extroverted style in the concerto could hardly have missed it in Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, a great showcase for earthy tone, brilliant passagework and old-fashioned stage presence. I look forward to her next visit.

The program started with Regard de l’anniversaire XXV, a brief, amusing and substantially dissonant fantasy on Happy Birthday by Louis Sauter, a Frenchman inspired by Olivier Messiaen. Then came another premiere, Magnificent Roots, an eight-minute, five-movement suite by Toronto’s Frank Horvat that purports to look at the world from the perspective of a tree. The modal finale was a good platform for the warm Sinfonia Toronto style.


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Arthur Kaptainis
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