Sunday, March 27, 2011

Toronto Symphony Orchestra - Britten, Bruch, Estacio & Williams - 03/26/11

Conductor: Peter Oundjian
Britten: "Four Sea Interludes" from Peter Grimes
Bruch: Violin Concerto No 1 in G Minor, Op. 26 – Itzhak Perlman
Estacio: Frenergy
Williams: Symphony No 4

Although my maiden live experience of the Bruch violin concerto had unexpectedly happened ten days earlier than planned with Joshua Bell and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I was still very excited about hearing it performed by Itzhak Perlman and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra last night at Carnegie Hall with my fellow Itzhak's die-hard fan Lisa. After all those years of waiting, getting to relish it twice within ten days sounded just like the appropriate reward.
The rest of the program was, of course, secondary, but I was nevertheless very happy to see that the opening number would be the "Four Sea Interludes" from Peter Grimes, one of my favorite operas. I had no idea who John  Estacio was and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No 4 was unknown territory ot me, but I figured that if the first half of the program lived up to my (high) expectations, my evening would be made regardless.

The "Four Sea Interludes" from Britten’s riveting opera about a fisherman’s cruel fate amidst harsh human conflicts in a coastal English village were as brightly evocative as I remembered them, giving the indomitable sea the scope and complexity of an actual character in the drama. Under the congenial, assured conducting of Peter Oundjian, the orchestra beautifully highlighted all the nuances of the four atmospheric episodes.
My second live take on Bruch’s glorious violin concerto turned out to be every bit as thrilling as my first one, and that is saying a lot. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra may not have the same polished exactness as their Boston counterparts, but they were all solidly committed to supporting their mesmerizing soloist. In full command of his formidable technique, Itzhak Perlman delivered an impeccably fluid performance of heightened emotions and dazzling fireworks. Far from shying away from the trademark heart-on-sleeve nature of the composition, he made it come to unabashedly lyrical life for a superb tour de force that left even the fidgety teenagers behind me in stunned silence. Now that was a major - and most welcome - accomplishment!
After Bruch’s virtuosic Romantic journey and a well-timed intermission to come back down to earth, we got a taste of Frenergy by John Estacio, a fun little piece which, as its title indicates, was a dynamite mix of frenetic pace and unbounded energy. A lot of percussion and wind instruments got together for a short but fulfilling quickie, and we were already off to the next piece.
The fourth symphony of Vaughan Williams is a world in itself, far from his other, more traditional-sounding compositions. Written not long before World War II, it is hard not to think of the tragedy to come when listening to the turbulent score, even if Williams steadily refused to acknowledge any connections. In the capable hands of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the work became a resounding smorgasbord of musical influences once the blisteringly dissonant opening had come and gone, but it had its sporadic charms too, especially in the fleeting, quieter moments. The overall tension never quite lifted off though, and it kept the audience on their toes all the way to the final assault.

It was therefore with immense relief that we heard that the evening’s encore was nothing less than the serene slow movement of Williams’ crowd-pleasing fifth symphony. Providing much appreciated calm after the rolling tempest, it ended the concert on a lovely, delicately harmonious note.

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