La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Toronto Symphony Opens Season with Mahler Second

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

In a similar fashion it ended its previous season in the spring, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra opened its 89th concert season on Sept. 23 with a big orchestra, big choir, stunning vocal soloists and a lot of exhilaration in the air.

The single piece of work on display was Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection, which music director Peter Oundjian describes in the program as “the true successor to Beethoven’s Ninth”.

The lightning timpani strokes, the stormy and theatrical mood, the graceful calm, the magical and almost surreal voices combined — it was all there, one at a time, like a depressed schizophrenic monster on Prozac rising slowly and reluctantly from dark basement to earthly soil and into an orgy of spiritual om and eternal high.

The contrasts throughout the five movements were nicely played by the orchestra, with Oundjian managing to coax out some of the most impossible pianissimos ever written for a large ensemble. And just when you least expect it, Mahler gives you the pipe organ, bells, tam-tams, horns, trumpets, two harps, two timpani and everything else on stage (and some off stage). The performance overall could have had more life, especially in the hopeless first movement, but it was home run most of the way for Oundjian and his players. A well-deserved standing ovation broke out as soon as the last note ended.

The two soloists that gave the performance its juice were soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and mezzo-soprano Susan Platts.

Platts, dressed in an elegant red evening gown, sang with a dark and creamy tone in Urlicht (Primal Light), one of the most arresting songs in the entire symphony. Her capable voice carried over the orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir with good phrasing, intonation and clear diction.

Opposite Platts was Bayrakdarian in a black-and-white mermaid dress. With a commanding stage presence, Bayrakdarian’s subtle entry in the finale was done with skill and taste. She sounded a bit pressed in her first high rise above the choir, but showed off the range of her voice the rest of the way with superb control and deep understanding of the music.

The performance repeats at Roy Thomson Hall on Sept. 25 at 8 p.m.

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