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An Exciting Debut

Roy Thomson Hall
02/23/2011 -  & February 24*, 26 (The Rite of Spring only)
Edward Elgar: In the South ("Alassio"), Op. 50
Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

André Laplante (Piano)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko (Conductor)

A. Laplante (© Peter Schaaf)

Integral to the TSO’s huge and varied season are the guest conductors. Making his local debut in this set of concerts is the youthful (age 35) Vasily Petrenko, conductor of the Royal Liverpool Symphony Orchestra and Britain’s National Youth Orchestra.

Maestro Petrenko’s reading of Elgar’s In the South was well-judged throughout. The piece is called a concert overture, but is more a tone poem à la Richard Strauss, with sections calling up the history of the locale on the Italian Riviera where Elgar spent some time. It achieves a well-behaved grandiosity in places, although in spots it rambles a bit. Violist Teng Li was sterling in the dreamlike middle section. It’s a pity that the finale fails to top the sweep and vigour of its opening section.

As 2011 is Liszt’s bicentennial year we have an extra reason for programming the frequently-heard Piano Concerto No. 1. I can’t think of any pianist I’d prefer to hear doing it than André Laplante (who, incidentally, made his TSO debut back in 1975 - how time flies!) He negotiates the many, many notes while maintaining an overall view of the work’s dramatic arc through its linked sections, bringing it all to an incendiary finish. (Liszt’s second piano concerto will be heard later in the season.)

It’s too bad the Stravinsky work did not directly follow the Elgar on the program. Composed just nine years after In the South, with The Rite of Spring Stravinsky is credited (almost) with reinventing classical music and rendering the likes of Elgar old-fashioned. The augmented orchestra was used to super effect - for example, eight French horns going all out is both an aural and visual thrill. From Michael Sweeney’s opening bassoon solo onward the work with all its abrupt, jerky rhythms unfolded implacably.

Vasily Petrenko is obviously in wide demand and now we know why.

The February 26 performance will be of The Rite of Spring only in a Beyond the Score exploratory presentation of the work. Beyond the Score (BTS) is an approach developed in 2005 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in which the first half of a program consists of an hour-long background to, and analysis of, a specific work, using visuals, actors (Colm Feore in this case) and (for The Rite of Spring), a player of Slavic folk instruments, Valeriy Yavor. The second half of the evening will consist of a presentation of the work itself. (Beethoven’s First symphony will receive a similar treatment later in the season).

Michael Johnson



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