Civilization and savagery
Roy Thomson Hall
06/09/2016 - & June 10*, 11, 2016
Anton von Webern: Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10
Edward Elgar: Violin Concerto in B Minor, Op. 61
Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du printemps (1913 version)
James Ehnes (violin)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor)
J. Ehnes, P. Oundjian (© Emma Badame)
The TSO wound up its three-program survey of works from the second decade of the 20th century with a program of three wildly contrasting works all composed within a three-year period.
The opener was Anton von Webern’s four-minute Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 10, for just 18 players who are sparsely deployed. Since each miniature ends before one can grasp the sense if it, the work is frequently performed twice - but not this time. One might have thought that Webern had taken minimalism as far as it could go, but many composers since have cited him as an influence.
The German word for musician is tonkünstler, or “tone artist”. This term instantly came to mind as James Ehnes played the opening notes of Elgar’s Violin Concerto. What ensued was a sensitive exploration of the great work’s contrasting moods, with the violinist's rich, glowing tone the uniting thread. Soloist, conductor and orchestral players seemed to share a wavelength throughout the lengthy piece. If there was a highlight it was the third movement’s cadenza, with its gentle strumming accompaniment. A recent article in The Gramophone (June 2016) asks “Is James Ehnes capable of making a sound that isn’t beautiful?” The answer seems to be “No”.
We were treated to an encore, a slow movement from Bach’s Violin Sonata #3.
In 2013 the TSO released a recording of The Rite of Spring (reviewed here). I found it technically polished but too polite and constrained. This performance provided a startling contrast - in fact it was aggressive to the point of obnoxiousness. While it seemed reckless and chaotic it was still clearly delineated. Truly a visceral experience. The sheer savagery of the work was vividly presented and the performance helped explain the legendary ruckus at its premiere in 1913.
The TSO has had a good year with many very accomplished concerts. This was one of the season highlights and made for a dashing conclusion to this section of the Decades Project.