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Whetting one’s appetite for more...

Roy Thomson Hall
10/24/2013 -  & October 26, 2013
Antonín Dvorák: Carnival Overture, Op. 92
(*) Witold Lutoslawski: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

Janina Fialkowska (piano)
The Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (*), The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, James Gaffigan (conductor)

J. Gaffigan (© Mat Hennek)

This concert got off to an unusual start in that the platform was crammed with about 150 musicians as the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra joined the main group for Dvorák’s Carnival Overture. There were two concertmasters, two set of tympani, the works! What looked like an unwieldy mob delivered a sharply defined performance under debuting conductor James Gaffigan (who himself looks young enough to be a member of the youth orchestra). It was nice that members of the youth orchestra were given brief wind solos - and even nicer that they played them so well.

A much reduced orchestra (just over 60 players, including a few from the TSYO) returned to the stage for Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, composed in 1988 for Krystian Zimerman. Janina Fialkowska attended an early performance of the work and instantly set her sights on it - and finally, after 20-odd years, she gets to unveil her interpretation. The work is in four movements played without breaks; the second movement is marked presto while the others described by their metronome timings. However, as in other classical concertos, each movement contains a variety of tempi. The work opens with glittery orchestral sounds and there is initially some playful, scrambly passages for the pianist. There are bluesy stretches as the work builds in intensity. It seems to deflate at one point and then slowly resurrects itself. At one point there is byplay between the pianist and trumpeters. It’s an intriguing work and Ms Fialkowska has the right mix of forthrightness and humour to put it across. As with so many new works, I wish we could have had a second performance of it after the interval.

Any Brahms symphony is a test for a conductor, especially one making his local debut. Mr. Gaffigan handled the genial second symphony with care and a fine degree of aplomb, although perhaps the whole did not exceed the sum of the parts. The orchestra numbered slightly more than 60 players, thus helping guarantee a chamber approach with no hint of heavy upholstery. At first I felt the second movement Adagio non troppo was taken too slowly, but Gaffigan sculpted it beautifully. The third movement failed to make a distinct impression - Brahms’ Allegretto grazioso (Quasi Andantino) basically means “Have fun, but not too much” - a hard thing to put across. The final movement had lots of lilt, but without soupiness.

This weekday matinee attracted an audience that was attentive, appreciative, notably elderly and unfortunately sparse. Maybe the very name “Lutoslawski” sounds aggressively avant-garde? As it introduces the local audience to an important new (to us) work and a new conductor, this concert is definitely worth a hearing.

Michael Johnson



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