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The 1920s: Part III

Roy Thomson Hall
11/09/2016 -  & November 11, 2016
Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending
Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 105
William Walton: Viola Concerto
Maurice Ravel: Boléro

Teng Li (violist)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor)

T. Li & P. Oundjian (© Jag Photography)

While the first two sets of concerts in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s project focused on music of the 1920s featured works that are flippant, impudent, and sardonic, this final program features works of a more serious bent.

A concert usually starts with something lively and showy (nothing wrong with that.) But this time it began with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, a work that begins pianissimo and never, never shouts. Composed in 1914 but not orchestrated until 1921 and with its mix of impressionism (reminding us of VW’s lessons with Ravel) and evocation of pastoral nostalgia, it stands as an evocation of a period irretrievably lost. TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow gave an appropriately graceful, restrained performance.

Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 7 is yet another work that begins quietly and never tries to grab one by the lapels. Its restless energies are mostly submerged, with occasional eruptions. Peter Oundjian tautly molded the roiling score.

William Walton’s Viola Concerto both begins and ends quietly. He composed it 1928-29 for violist Lionel Tertis who declined to play it, so Paul Hindemith first performed it. Later (1962) Walton revised it. If the reason for the revision was to give more prominence to the soloist, it seems to have worked. The orchestration gives a sonic nimbus to the solo instrument whose dark tones can so easily be overwhelmed. TSO lead violist Teng Li has the muscular technique well within her grasp and also expresses the probing thought behind the work’s varied episodes.

The final work was yet another one that begins quietly before building to a noisy climax: Ravel’s Boléro. The program warns “It may not be wise to hear Boléro too often.” I used to get impatient with its lack of substance until I attended a concert where I sat behind the orchestra and could watch the conductor who, in that instance, was Georges Prêtre. He teased and tickled every phrase out of the orchestra - it amounted to an act of mischief. The work seems to be played last on a program, like a sweet at the end of a meal. Well, OK. It certainly is one of the most popular works of the 1920s.

The International Artists Managers Association is holding its annual conference in Toronto. There will be efforts to showcase Canadian talent and, accordingly, the November 11 performance will feature T. Patrick Carrabé’s Inuit Games for Throat Singers and Orchestra (composed in 2002) with two throat singers from Nunavut, Inukshuk Aksalnik and Pauline Pemik.

Michael Johnson



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