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Exhilarating Mozart

Roy Thomson Hall/George Weston Recital Hall*
01/11/2014 -  & January 12*, 2014
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture to La clemenza di Tito, K. 621 – Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major, K. 456 – Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Ignat Solzhenitsyn (pianist and conductor)

I. Solzhenitsyn (Courtesy of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

For ten years now, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has devoted a number of concerts in January to Mozart. This year’s mini-festival got off to a bouncing start under the leadership of conductor/pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn.

I was fortunate in experiencing the concert at the George Weston Recital Hall which, with less the half the number seats of the orchestra’s usual home, Roy Thomson Hall, makes for a notably resounding sonic experience. This was especially true in the opening piece, the overture to La clemenza di Tito. There were more than 50 players and the sound was both big and serious, very much in keeping with the opera’s tangled plot involving deadly ambition and subterfuge.

What a contrast with the following piece, the blithe Piano Concerto No. 18, composed in 1784. The term “rococo” is often used in a derogatory manner, meaning fussy and overdone. This piece - and its performance - gave us the positive aspects of the rococo: sparkling and gallant. There were a lot of notes, but nothing precious or frilly. Pianist and orchestra gave us all the contrasts between and within the playful opening movement, the darker andante, and giddy third movement.

We were back with the larger orchestra again for Symphony No. 39, one of the three final symphonies Mozart composed in 1788. The performance brought forth the full weight of its ceremonial, Gluckian opening and then the allegro section with its foreshadowings of Beethoven and others (I’ll swear there is a hint of J. Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz). The second movement (andante con moto) was given marvelous sweep, and the following Menuetto was well-gauged. The performance of the finale might have been described as “reckless” if anything had gone awry, but nothing did. The result was exhilarating. The near-capacity audience gave the performance very warm applause.

I am not aware that Ignat Solzhenitsyn is listed among the noted Mozartians of our era, but this concert gave ample reason for him to be included.

The two further sets of concerts in the festival add up to a well-chosen sampling from various aspects of Mozart’s astonishing career.

Michael Johnson



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