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Clarity and contrast

Roy Thomson Hall
04/28/2016 -  & April 30, 2016
Matthias Pintscher: towards Osiris
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1 "Titan"

Inon Barnatan (piano)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Matthias Pintscher (conductor)

Both pianist Inon Barnatan and conductor Matthias Pintscher were making their local debuts in this pair of concerts and let’s hope they return soon. Their partnership in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 bordered on the mystic, and the maestro’s handling of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 brought forth all the work’s considerable drama.

The concert opened with Matthias Pintscher’s towards Osiris, a seven-minute work dating from 2005. It was recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic along with works by Colin Matthews, Kaija Saariaho, Mark-Anthony Turnage, and Brett Dean to accompany Gustav Holst’s The Planets. He later expanded it into a larger work, Osiris, premiered in 2008. Given that the title refers to an Egyptian god who was hacked to pieces (and later gathered up and reassembled), the piece employs a large orchestra deployed sparingly, giving a splintered effect with a lot of sonic glitter. The near-capacity audience gave it a friendly ovation.

The Mozart concerto was given a superlative performance. Peter Oundjian’s 12 years as music director has seen the TSO really hone in on Mozart and Pintscher obtained the best results possible with the orchestra reduced to 42 players. Its C minor key is described in the program as “tragic”, but in this case the overall impression was of a deeply thoughtful, limpid melancholy, never lugubrious or self-indulgent. He and Inon Barnatan are frequent collaborators which helps explain why this performance was so impeccably unified. One usually expects some coughing at the end of a slow movement, but there wasn’t a sound - it was like being in Japan (how wonderful!)

The same intense listening greeted Mahler’s First Symphony. Matthias Pintscher accentuated the work’s many contrasts, with subtle transformations alternating with abrupt, even startling, juxtapositions. It appears frequently on programs and he made it fresh. The numerous solo passages were superbly handled by the orchestra’s members.

Peter Oundjian is stepping down as TSO Music Director in a couple of seasons. Mattthias Pintscher is Music Director of the Ensemble Contemporain in Paris, arguably the world’s top orchestra specializing in contemporary works. One wonders if he would like to take on a North American orchestra with a large, eclectic season and (judging from the turnout for this concert) a diverse, attentive and demonstrative audience. Wouldn’t that be interesting!

Michael Johnson



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