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An all-American program

Roy Thomson Hall
11/22/2019 -  & November 23, 2019
Cindy McTee: Double Play
Samuel Barber: Piano Concerto, Op. 38
Leonard Bernstein: Overture to Candide
John Corigliano: Elegy for Orchestra
George Gershwin: An American in Paris

Jon Kimura Parker (piano)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin (conductor)

L. Slatkin & J. Kimura Parker (© Jag Gundu)

Here was an all-American program featuring composers who defied post-Schoenbergian trends and persisted with melodic tonality that relegates many such works to the pops concert category.

Leonard Slatkin is noted as a supporter of American music and the opening work of he evening is dedicated to him as he premiered it when conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 2010. Cindy McTee’s Double Play is in two distinctive parts: “The Unquestioned Answer” and “Tempus Fugit”. “Playful and humorous” are the key words in the program describing the work. At 17 minutes in length, though, the piece (or are they two pieces?) makes for a rather awkward opener. “Tempus Fugit” exploits the wood block to the fullest extent, and it ends with a frisky clatter, but gained only polite applause. (Is it possible to try too hard to be ingratiating?)

The weightiest work of the evening was Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto given a masterful performance by the ever-ebullient Jon Kimura Parker. You can tell when an audience is truly in synch with a piece when the dashing finale of the opening movement is received with rapt silence. (And I was reminded of the last time I heard the piece with the TSO back in 2010 in an all-Barber concert - with Mr. Parker - celebrating the composer’s centenary.)

The Barber was enthusiastically received, and Mr. Parker then announced that a program of American music simply must contain some rock and roll and launched into a driving piece by Elton John (not American, by the way) who, along with Arthur Rubinstein, was one of Mr. Parker’s idols in his teen years.

A work that stands as a concert opener par excellence was positioned to open the evening’s second half: the overture to Leonard Bernstein’s Candide given a bracing, razor-sharp performance.

This was followed by a contrasting piece from 1965, John Corigliano’s Elegy, dedicated to Samuel Barber. It turns out to be an eloquent work, finely constructed, and it is hard to believe it originally accompanied a love scene in a play. It is not the kind of work to arouse a noisy response and it did not do so here, but was respectfully received.

The evening ended in very upbeat fashion with Gershwin’s An American in Paris given, just like the Bernstein overture, a lively, witty performance. Both it and the McTee work are of identical length but the Gershwin contains a great variety of moods from bubbly to wistful, all lovingly brought to the fore.

Michael Johnson



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