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Sensitivity and brio

Roy Thomson Hall
03/11/2015 -  & March 12, 14, 2015
Alfredo Casella: Italia, Op. 11
Richard Strauss: Vier Letzte Lieder
Richard Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

Adrianne Pieczonka (soprano)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda (conductor)

A. Pieczonka (© Malcolm Cook)

Gianandrea Noseda is among the most popular of the TSO’s guest conductors and this program demonstrated why. It opened with something completely unfamiliar, Alfredo Casella’s Italia, composed when he was 26 and midway through his 19-year sojourn in Paris. It is an energetic, 18-minute programmatic work depicting first an acerbic portrait of Sicily (a folk song in which a man puts a curse on his mistress is quoted) and then carefree Naples, using variations on Funiculì, Funiculà. It employs significant stretches of the advanced harmonies of the day. In the opening of the Neapolitan section the familiar tune is unexpectedly carried by cellos and basses; subsequently there are Ravelian sounds (Ravel was a near-contemporary and friend). A rousing orchestral workout.

We were then treated to Strauss’s Four Last Songs sung by Adrianne Pieczonka who has had them in her repertoire for well over a decade and can be said to truly live and breath them. Under Noseda the orchestral accompaniment was both ultra-sensitive but also characterful in a way that is hard to describe. Horn player Neil Deland and concertmaster Jonathan Crow contributed superb solos. There was a wonderful hush between the songs and again at the end before the conductor lowered his arms.

After intermission: the prelude to Tristan und Isolde given a performance that opened almost subliminally and then delivered with wide dynamics. Ms. Pieczonka glided on stage during the final measures out of which blossomed the ”Liebestod”. She has sung most of the Wagnerian junglich dramatische (“youthful dramatic”) roles like Senta, Sieglinde, Elsa, and Elisabeth and it could be that Isolde beckons. The sensitivity - even tenderness - we experienced in the handling of the Strauss songs was carried over here.

Then for something totally different, a sinewy performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 that was brisk without being rushed. The orchestra was reduced to a relatively tight 55 members for this. Noseda is noted as an animated conductor but his usual dance moves were, if anything, understated. At the fleetest moments in the third (Presto) movement he simply let the orchestra play by itself. The enthusiastic audience response was seconded by the players as they gave a foot-stomping salute to the maestro.

The evening opened with a brief address by the newish (four months on the job) general manager of the TSO, Jeff Melanson. He first lauded the organization’s continued government funding (from all three levels of government) and then complimented the audience for being so good-looking. Hearty applause for that.

Michael Johnson



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