A smiling summer night
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata in A Major, K. 331 (*)
Maurice Ravel: Cinq mélodies populaires grecques (&)
Pablo de Sarasate: Zigeurnerweisen, Op. 20 (#)
Fritz Kreisler: La Gitana – Tambourin chinois (#)
Cyril Scott (arr. Kreisler): Lotus Land, Op. 47, No. 1 (#)
Johannes Brahms (arr. Kreisler): Hungarian Dance, WoO 1 No. 17 (#)
Fryderyk Chopin: Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52 (*)
Richard Strauss (arr. John Greer): Vier letzte Lieder (&)
Adrianne Pieczonka (soprano)
Kerson Leong (violin), New Orford String Quartet: Jonathan Crowe, Andrew Wan (violin), Eric Nowlin (viola), Brian Manker (cello); Jon Kimura Parker (*), Steven Philcox (&), Rachael Kerr (#) (piano)
K. Leong, R. Kerr (© Sean Howard)
Toronto Summer Music 2019 got off to a dazzling start with a varied program titled “Beyond Borders”. This title was in reference to many of the pieces involving a composer borrowing material from a tradition other than his own, currently a risky choice in some circles.
Illustrating this theme was the opening piece, Mozart’s Piano Sonata “Alla turca”, deftly played by Jon Kimura Parker. He brought out the wistfulness of the stately opening measures and then the energetic bounce as the Turkish element comes to the fore in the final movement.
The work is far from the most profound of Mozart’s output, and providing a distinct contrast was Mr. Parker’s second contribution to the program, Chopin’s moody Ballade No. 4. The pianist’s approach was big but avoided brashness, finely controlled throughout. The crashing finale took one’s breath away. (Chopin did not borrow from a separate culture for this work – or for any of his works; while his career took place outside his homeland, he always carried Poland within him; thus “beyond borders”.)
Providing probably the most unalloyed joy in this satisfying evening was Ottawa-born violinist Kerson Leong performing five pyrotechnical bonbons accompanied by Rachael Kerr, a recent “graduate” of the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio, who demonstrated a lively, razor-sharp approach to Mr. Leong’s astonishingly accurate, playful fingering. (Thanks to a patron he plays a Guarneri; this certainly helps produce his beguiling tone.)
Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen was the most substantial of the pieces; the others had the mischievous Fritz Kreisler as composer or arranger. At one point the audience broke into delighted laughter at the bravura results. I hope to hear much more from both performers.
Summer Music always features vocal performance, and, as enjoyable as the piano and violin segments of the evening were, Adrienne Pieczonka’s two items (like Mr. Parker’s, one light-hearted, the other heartfelt) were the highlights of the program. She skimmed blithely through Ravel’s Five Popular Greek Songs, with Steven Philcox a sensitive accompanist. The climax of the evening, though, were Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs in an arrangement by John Greer for the soprano to be accompanied by a string quartet, here the New Orford String Quartet, and pianist (Mr. Philcox again). While one might miss the lushness of the Straussian orchestra there was a huge gain: a gripping sense of intimacy. It helps, of course, to have a singer who could also project the songs over a grand orchestra, and a violinist like Jonathan Crowe (concert master of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) entrancing us in the third song, “Beim Schlafengehen”.
The hall was sold out, as so many of the festival’s concerts. TSM’s director, Jonathan Crowe, can be credited once again with astute programming.