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Wonderful display of musical unity

Roy Thomson Hall
11/15/2014 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 2, Op. 16 "The Four Temperaments"

Jan Lisiecki (piano)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (conductor)

J. Lisiecki (© Mathias Bothor)

This second of the three Dausgaard/Lisiecki Beethoven-Nielsen programs was performed just once at a Saturday “casual concert” - one with an early start (7:30), no interval, and a lobby party complete with jazz group afterwards. The audience attracted had a more youthful look than usual - and was just as attentive (very!) as the more conventional audience at the preceding main series concert. And even though there was just one performance, the music seemed to be as carefully prepared as for the normal run of performances.

Overall, the performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto was notable for its sensuous elasticity, wide dynamic contrasts and marvelous unison between conductor and orchestra. As in the Fourth Concerto a few days ago, a distinctly Mozartian approach was evident (the program notes Beethoven’s admiration for Mozart’s 24th Concerto, K. 491). For much of the second movement (Largo) the music seemed to be gently coaxed along with one stretch that challenged the limits of audibility. The final movement was characterized by airy lightness and impressive precision.

Once again Jan Lisiecki treated us to a subtle, sensitive encore - Chopin’s gently rippling Etude Op. 25, No. 1 “Aeolian Harp”.

Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 2 (composed in 1901-02) carries out the composer’s own program in that its four movements illustrate the supposed four human temperaments, in order: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic, and sanguine. It is quite the workout for large orchestra, opening with the brash, headlong Allegro collerico. The following Allegro comodo (“comfortable”) e flemmatico is full of subtleties; much of it seems to characterize contented bumbling. The Andante melancolico has an outright luxuriant sound that swells to become grand; it seems a rather epic view of melancholia, but then becomes plaintive. The concluding Allegro sanguineo, evoking optimism, opens with bouncy, scurrying measures that become just a tad egregious in their intensity. This leads to a huge outburst followed by a quiet passage, leading to the marching finale reminiscent of the choleric opening of the work. It also bears a cousinly resemblance to a contemporary work, Glazunov’s music for the ballet The Seasons, specifically the bacchanal (composed 1899, just two years before this work.) This is not to say that Nielsen was copying or even influenced by Glazunov, but just as his work bears comparison with contemporaries like Strauss and Mahler, it is no surprise that at least one Russian composer can be shown to be working with similar musical ideas. In this case, the result is quite the vibrant audience-pleaser.

Michael Johnson



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