“TSO reveals capacity for metamorphosis”
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is on a little tour with a big program. Tuesday night we heard the Canadian première of Vivian Fung’s tone painting Aqua, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 played by Richard Goode as warmly as a hug, and Strauss’s whinging ego trip, Ein Heldenleben, which is a struggle to appreciate even with the best performance.
The TSO revealed a surprising capacity for metamorphosis under Peter Oundjian’s baton. They went from hair-trigger motions in the swells and dives of Aqua to relaxed and soulful camaraderie with the piano concerto. The Chicago Sinfonietta and the Architecture Foundation commissioned composers to respond to buildings, and Fung’s first choice was architect Jeanne Gang’s skyscraper, the undulating Aqua tower. The building didn’t exist yet — Fung recalled she saw it first when she stayed at the hotel across the street to attend the première — so she got into the project through conversations with the architect and images of the design. I think it is this engagement we heard in her straightforward and compactly affecting work, which managed to summon the chill of the lakeshore in under eight minutes. Whether rendered in harp lines against orchestral shivers or as monolithic tutti crescendos, the shape of her subject was remarkably clear. The rest of the program was the opposite: all egos.
Mozart’s you can forgive, but Strauss invites you to hate him. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) is 50 minutes of self-pleasure that manages to be both obscene and boring. The obscenity comes from its clumsy symbolism, like “heroic” horns smashing tittering woodwinds — representing his critics, so perhaps my objectivity is compromised — followed by a self-quoting symphonic interlude while the corpses are cleared. Repeat for 50 minutes or until numb.
This attack on subtlety has historical importance for a few reasons, but that’s no cause to perform it in public today. What little beauty it has lives in the spectacularly difficult solo violin part, representing Strauss’s wife, which was dispatched with masterful coolness by TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow. The horns and strings were strong; the double-basses too, but in general the Strauss-bloated orchestra (nine horns!) moved with more difficulty and less colour. Not so for the delightful Mozart, which developed easily from reflection to lyrical joy. Goode has been in the top rung of American pianists for a long time, and his interpretation of the Concerto No. 17 was friendly, spacious, and warm. Here, a smaller TSO was nimble and together they produced a captivating and well-fed sound.
– by Lev Bratishenko
Get our latest update via email
You can purchase or rent my music at Bill Holab Music
For general inquiries, just click below!CONTACT US