La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Commendable Performance from Louis Lortie and TSO

by L. H. Tiffany Hsieh

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin's birth — both were born in 1810 — and Gustav Mahler’s 150th, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has creatively put together a jam-packed program that features all three composers, with Canadian composer Robert Turner to boot.

Sandwiched in the middle is one of Canada’s favourite sons, pianist Louis Lortie.

A perennial performer in Toronto, Lortie is a veteran when it comes to pulling off not one, but two contrasting piano works with orchestra back to back, separated only by an intermission.

On Sept. 30 at Roy Thomson Hall, he began in Schumann’s heroic A-minor piano concerto with the utmost regal presence of mind and ended the piece with striking force and power. It was a commendable performance, but it wasn’t his best. While his able fingers did most of the work on their own, it seemed, Lortie savoured each and every passing moment between him and the orchestra, partly thanks to some great work from long-time TSO members, oboist Keith Atkinson and clarinettist Joaquin Valdepenas.

For the most part, Lortie was a perfect soloist in this Schumann concerto. His interpretation of the music was uniquely intimate, intellectual, and subtly imaginative. It was just too bad that as a whole, he didn’t come across as the precision, powerhouse player he’s usually known for.

That being said, Lortie succeeded in delivering some top-notch work in Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise after the intermission. The poetic lyricism in the solo Andante Spianato was unmatched and Lortie triumphed in giving the Grande Polonaise pulse and fanfare.

His orchestral partner on stage backed him up with great sensitivity in both the Schumann and the Chopin, even though the two weren’t always in synch.

Peter Oundjian on the podium, along with the very zealous concertmaster of the night, Mark Skazinetsky, led the TSO in a more exciting venture in Schumann’s second symphony in C major, as re-orchestrated by Mahler. Technically, the music is a polished version of the work by Mahler, who, despite changes here and there, kept the symphony mostly in tune with what listeners would expect Schumann to sound like.

Oundjian and the TSO gave one of the most daring performances of the scherzo on stage.

The concert opened with a salute to Turner’s 90th birthday this year, with his Opening Night: A Theatre Overture. Composed in 1955 for a commission from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the short orchestral work is a sunny outburst of energy and festivity. The TSO delivered all the right ingredients here.

The concert repeats Oct. 2 at 8 p.m.


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