La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 6 June 2010

TSO: Great Mahler, not so great Chopin

by L. H. Tiffany Hsieh

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra was one gorgeous band Thursday night in a lush program that opened and closed with Mahler's Blumine and Symphony No. 1, the Titan, respectively.

Music director Peter Oundjian cleverly programmed this massive work that was originally a two-part, five-movement symphonic poem, which Mahler turned into a symphony after three performances by dropping the second movement that is Blumine.

From the start, Oundjian displayed total control over each nuance and climax, bringing out precision, passion and, most importantly, excitement from his more-than-capable players.

Blumine, which means flower, was lovely with subtle colours throughout its lyrical form. TSO principal trumpeter Andrew McCandless delivered the gentle trumpet serenade with such finesse and tenderness that one could picture a lone dandelion and feel compassion.

Mahler's first symphony showcases the brass section in ways akin to royal fireworks and military parades, and the TSO didn't disappoint. While the outer movements were exceptionally performed here (with audiences jumping to their feet on the last note), the highlights were the inner two movements. Seductive and hypnotic, the orchestra played like a giant pendulum that creeps into your subconsciousness note by note, beat by beat.

Unfortunately, the piece programmed in between Blumine and Symphony No. 1 was less successful.

Celebrating Chopin's 200th birthday, the TSO is featuring the composer's two piano concertos in two separate concerts with two very different pianists. On Thursday, the Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter made her TSO debut in Chopin's F minor concerto. On June 10, the Chinese pianist YUNDI returns to tackle the E minor.

Fliter, 36, is one ebullient pianist to be sure. Her hummingbird-like fingers handled the keyboard beautifully and the way she lingered over harmonic chords, especially in the larghetto, was almost magical.

That being said, this particular performance lacked command right from the maestoso opening. Both soloist and the orchestra sounded afar and uncertain at times. While Fliter's elaborate runs ran like oil and the orchestra accompanied her to a tee, the overarching structure was weak and unimpressionable. Fliter and Oundjian took a slower tempo in the third allegro vivace and that made the supposedly brilliant mazurka rhythm sound sluggish and dull. The movement dragged and the virtuosic and showy elements Chopin had intended were wiped.

Nevertheless, the audience gave Fliter a warm standing ovation, possibly following her cue as she jumped to her feet while Oundjian's conducting hands were still in the air.

> Toronto Symphony website

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