Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Zoltan Almashi: Maria’s City. Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Illia Ovcharenko, soloist). Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 Oksana Lyniv, conductor. Roy Thomson Hall, Nov. 16, 2023. Repeats Nov. 18 (8 p.m.); tickets here.
Female conductors are now a common sight — in Europe. One of the better-known, Oksana Lyniv, made her Toronto Symphony Orchestra debut Thursday night in Roy Thomson Hall. She might be back.
The symphony after intermission was Dvořák’s Eighth, an extroverted score that can make a positive impression without much activism from the podium. Lyniv decreed something more personal, fearlessly clear and crisply articulated, but rich in colour and animated throughout by rhythmic nuance.
All the movements came off well, but the apex was the Adagio. Setting down her baton and moderating her gestures, Lyniv evoked warm sounds from the strings, which were balanced to perfection with the folkish woodwinds. Touches of melancholy and heroism were not missing from this masterful landscape.
Of course, the finale did not fail, its boisterous coda following a suitably (indeed, almost maddeningly) extended buildup of quiet tension. Brass players did not hold back. It was apparent to all that the opening fanfare was scored for two trumpets, not one.
Before intermission, we heard another super-standard, Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1, as played by the Honens Competition winner Illia Ovcharenko. Brisk and brilliant, the performance stressed the treble range and was somewhat overburdened by rubato. This piece is romantic enough as it is. The famous triangle part went for nothing. Vigorously applauded, Ovcharenko offered an encore, Liszt’s seldom-heard transcription of Schubert’s “Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen.”
Though not titled as such, this was very much a Ukrainian evening, both conductor (age 45) and soloist (age 22) being of Ukrainian birth. The program began with Maria’s City, a 12-minute tribute to the besieged city of Mariupol by the contemporary Ukrainian composer Zoltan Almashi. Rather than dwell on the destruction — briefly represented by a central passage of intense dissonance — this neo-romantic work for strings stressed elegiac remembrance and even hope. Solos and ensembles were imaginatively arrayed and played with great warmth. One had the sense that Lyniv, lithe and incisive, got everything there was in the score, and maybe more.
There is a repeat performance on Saturday.
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