Sadness and savagery
Roy Thomson Hall
06/02/2017 - & June 3, 2017
Luc Martin: Hero’s Fanfare
Paul Hindemith: Concert Music for Brass and Strings, Op. 50
Alban Berg: Violin Concerto
William Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast
Alexander Dobson (baritone), Jonathan Crow (violin)
Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Noel Edison, (director), Huddersfield Choral Society, Gregory Batsleer (director), The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)
Sir A. Davis (Courtesy of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Decades Project has now reached the 1930s with this first of three sets of concerts.
Paul Hindemith’s Concert Music for Brass and Stringsdates from 1931 when it was among several works commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The piece pits 16 brass instruments against the full complement of strings. The first of its two parts has the strings playing energetic, romping passages while the brass players emit rather dolorous blocks of sound. The second part begins with scurrying strings before the piece veers toward a melancholic, even lugubrious, tone then livens up to a sonorous finale. Other new pieces in Boston’s anniversary year have achieved a firm place in the repertoire (such Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G or Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms). This one has less to offer - it amounts more to an experiment in sonorities.
The sheer finesse of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto provided a distinct contrast to the Hindemith work. This singular work is suffused with a deep sadness offset (or emphasized?) by its sensuous, silken sheen. Its soloist must be able to maintain a focused yet seemingly fragile tone and TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow gave an appropriately sensitive performance.
A yet bigger contrast came in the second half of the concert with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast featuring the massive sound of two large choirs: the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with 118 voices, and the legendary Huddersfield Choral Society with 73 members. Not to mention the full orchestra plus passages where the organ adds yet more sonic heft. Alexander Dobson has all the voice one needs for the solos (many unaccompanied) but I felt he could have used a megaphone in order to achieve a degree of decibel parity. The result: a well-defined performance of a savage work that recounts a savage chunk of folklore.
The audience response was almost as noisy.
Sir Andrew Davis and this work have quite a history in Toronto. It was played at the opening concert in Roy Thomson Hall in 1982 when he was the orchestra’s music director. Twenty years later he led it again at the refurbished hall’s reopening concert. At that time he was interim music director while the orchestra conducted a search for a new leader. And just this week he was appointed interim director once again as the orchestra seeks a replacement for Peter Oundjian. Now Conductor Laureate, Sir Andrew’s 44-year history with the TSO shows no sign of abating.
The evening opened with yet another brief sesquie commissioned to observe Canada’s sesquicentennial. Luc Martin’s genial Hero’s Fanfare has a high tension central section but comes across as understated for a piece meant to celebrate those who fought the devastating Alberta wildfires of 2016.