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Notable debut for Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and more

Roy Thomson Hall
05/26/2017 -  & May 27, 28, 2017
Chan Ka Nin: My New Beautiful, Wonderful, Terrific, Amazing, Fantastic, Magnificent Homeland: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th
Frederick Delius: On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
Edvard Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16
Charles Tomlinson Griffes: Poem for Flute and Orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92

Nora Shulman (flute), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)

J.-E. Bavouzet & Sir A. Davis (© Jag Gandu)

The TSO has just returned from a six-performance tour to Israel, Austria, Czechia, and Germany. They seemed to be in fine form - no sign of jet lag.

The concert opened with yet another of the brief sesquies commissioned to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, this one by Chan Ka Nin, born in Hong Kong in 1949 and resident in Canada since the age of 15, and a long-time member of the music faculty at the University of Toronto. The title contains more exuberance than the work, which contains references to the national anthem. It is rather odd that the piece is scheduled for only the first of this series of three concerts.

In distinct contrast was Frederick Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring. Such a subtle work can seem a bit lost in the acoustics of the 2600-seat hall. At any rate it was very nicely done.

The evening marked the belated TSO debut of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. He and the conductor well in accord with a performance of Grieg’s piano concerto that accentuated the work’s light and shade while maintaining crisp detail throughout. The opening movement’s cadenza was spell-binding with an elasticity that carried one along as its dynamics soared then retreated. The final movement, which in itself contains enough material for an entire concerto, was well-defined through its stormy and dreaming episodes. Much applause.

Mr. Bavouzet seemed genuinely surprised by the audience’s enthusiasm and gave us an encore, Debussy’s rippling, seductive La Fille aux cheveux de lin. He is renowned for his Debussy and here was proof.

Griffes’s Poem for Flute and Orchestra was on the program as a farewell showpiece for retiring Principal Flutist Nora Shulman who joined the orchestra in 1974, becoming principal in 1986 when Andrew Davis was Music Director. It is a subtle showpiece, opening with Debussy-flavoured moodiness followed by a rollicking section, played with the orchestra’s strings plus just two French horns.

The evening was capped with a well-focused performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, using a somewhat lean 60 players. Kevin Bazzana’s notes include a grumpy review of the work dating from 1827, noting “the immoderate use of the timpani”. Because of this I deliberately focused my attention on the instrument and it certainly is used a lot in the work. But “immoderate”? - not at all, in fact it could be described as a showcase for David Kent, the orchestra’s timpanist since 1981. The timpani part in fact represented all that was terrific about the performance, with an expressive range that always fit with what other sections were doing.

Let’s face it, symphony orchestras have had over 200 years to get this piece right - and orchestras are better now than they were then, as Harvey Sachs points out in his book The Ninth: Beethoven and the World of 1824.

The final movement is marked Aallegro con brio. Brio sums up the whole performance - and the near-capacity audience expressed considerable delight.

Michael Johnson



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