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A fine series finale

Roy Thomson Hall
11/20/2014 -  & November 22, 2014
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527: Overture
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73
Carl Nielsen: Symphony No. 5, Op. 50

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

T. Dausgaard (© Per Morten Abrahamson)

The three-program series conducted by Thomas Dausgaard featuring three piano concertos by Beethoven played by Jan Lisiecki plus three symphonies by Carl Nielsen wrapped up in fine form. This time it started off with a racy performance of the overture to Don Giovanni replete with dramatic tension.

In contrast to this, I felt the orchestral sections in the first movement of the Emperor Concerto were somewhat rushed, this giving short shrift to the work’s grandeur. Subsequently, however, the piece blossomed forth with the pianist and conductor so notably alert to one another. The adagio movement had an endearingly shy quality, while the final allegro crept upon us by stealth. Once again Jan Lisiecki seems to go out of his way to demonstrate that he is not a barnstorming young Turk.

And once again the 19-year-old treated us to a subtly-performed encore by Chopin, this time the dream-like Waltz in c-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2.

In his introductory remarks to Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Thomas Dausgaard recounted how the Danish language is spoken in the area (island of Funen or, in Danish, Fyn) where Nielsen was from - in that there is a distinctive twang. As amusing as this anecdote was, I cannot be sure if there is some expression of the local terroir in the pastoral section that opens Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony. This pastoral mode doesn’t last long before the composer’s accustomed restlessness emerges, leading to martial themes. In many ways the work foreshadows Shostakovitch and his ambiguous works with their undercut triumphs. Toward the finale of the work (self-consciously a FIFTH symphony à la Beethoven) there appears a mockery of triumphalism - but then a short but convincing grand finish on a forthrightly positive note.

It seems to be Carl Nielsen’s fate to be seen (at least outside his homeland) as in the shadow of contemporaries like Jean Sibelius, Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. He certainly is given his due at home, however, and next year is his sesquicentennial - I see that both his operas will be performed by the Royal Danish Opera. However there is another Danish composer, Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) who sits in the shadow of Carl Nielsen. And wouldn’t you know it - Thomas Dausgaard has recorded all 16 of his symphonies. Mr. Dausgaard is a frequent visitor with the TSO - maybe one day he will treat us to a Langgaard work.

Michael Johnson



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