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A bravura opener

Koerner Hall
07/14/2016 -  
Gustav Holst: St. Paul’s Suite, Op. 29, No. 2
Benjamin Britten: Serenade for Tenor Horn and Strings, Op. 31
Michael Tippett: Concerto for Double String Orchestra
Edward Elgar: Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47

Nicholas Phan (tenor), Neil Deland (horn), Parker String Quartet
TSM Festival Strings, Joseph Swensen (conductor)

N. Phan (Courtesy of Toronto Summer Music)

It’s unfortunately rare that an audience bursts into delighted laughter at the end of a “serious” piece of music, but that is what happened when the TSM Festival Strings under Joseph Swensen concluded their exuberant yet sensitively nuanced performance of Edward Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro as the final work of the opening concert of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival. The Parker String Quartet were outstanding as the small ensemble playing against the orchestra in this concerto grosso, with violist Jessica Bodner a particular star.

Each work on the program showed the same brio and commitment. It opened with Gustav Holst’s 1913 St. Paul’s Suite with just 18 players, displaying a sinewy sound with depth and a marvelous dynamic range. For a special event orchestra they achieved a remarkably unified and organic sound throughout.

The major work - with the full 38-member orchestra - was Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with Nicholas Phan giving a total impression of channeling the poetry through the music. He seemed to go into a mystical trance for Part V, Dirge. Neil Deland, principal horn player with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, was the sensitive partner (they performed the piece together with the TSO in 2013).

Michael Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra (completed in 1939) swirls around seeming to chase its own tail for much of its length. The restless rhythmic shifts were clearly defined in what can best be described as a rambunctious performance.

The theme of this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival is London Calling. While the programs contain many works by British composers, many others (such as Haydn, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Shostakovich) whose works became a significant part of the British scene are also represented.

The festival’s opening concert, though, was an all-British (in fact all-English) affair - and a wonderful concert it was.

Michael Johnson



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