NaganoKent Nagano

If there is a connection between these two stellar concerts in the last week of November -- the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and the Apollon Musagète Quartet -- perhaps it’s that the OSM’s concertmaster Andrew Wan and principal cellist Brian Manker are themselves members of a notable string quartet, the New Orford. Or perhaps it’s because the OSM’s transparency and sense of ensemble, on display in their Roy Thomson Hall concert November 25, in portions of  Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10 in E Minor, Op.93, are qualities characteristic of the best string quartets.

The OSM evening began with the Suite for Orchestra, Harpsichord and Organ, a selection of four movements taken from Bach’s Orchestral Suites Nos.2 and 3 and arranged by Mahler. In fact, at the world premiere in 1909, Mahler himself conducted the New York Philharmonic from the harpsichord; Kent Nagano chose to conduct the OSM from the podium without a baton.

Read more: Concert Report: OSM at RTH; Apollon Musagète Quartet at Music Toronto

Benjamin Grosvenor - credit Benjamin Grosvenor returned to the Jane Mallett stage October 13 and exceeded all expectations. In a program that, for the most part, looked back to the Baroque from a Romantic sensibility, the 23-year-old British pianist displayed his unique voice in a field crowded with talented performers.

Grosvenor memorably took the fugue from Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue Op.35, No.1 from evanescence through emboldenment and back. The prelude from Op.33, No.3 was spellbinding, its quiet lyricism a hushed beauty; the fugue a capricious romp. Bach’s Chaconne, from the Partita in D Minor for Violin BWV1004, as transcribed by Busoni, doubled down on the evening’s backward glance by evoking its twin spirits with haunting results, the pianist’s attention to dynamics never overdone. Franck’s Prélude, chorale et fugue continued to build sound worlds with compelling pianissimo passages and a well-structured approach. The chorale harkened back to the Mendelssohn and the Bach-Busoni.

Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin moved the program into the 20th century even as it retained the baroque rearview-mirror quality of the evening. Grosvenor, characteristically hunched over the keyboard, brought clarity and dreaminess to the Prélude; a great delicacy to the sonic marvel that is the Fugue, with its notes seemingly bursting into air; a prismatic elegance, lovely bent notes and well-defined rhythm, with a hint of mystery, to the Forlane; a touch of frenzy in the Rigaudon, a touch of melancholy within the polished framework of the Menuet and a raciness to the raucous Toccata.

With Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli the tenor shifted to the romantic embellishment of the Italian popular song. Embellishing the opening Gondoliera also meant capturing its essence; the Tarantella was wild with its repeating notes, tone clusters and arpeggiated runs. Percy Grainger’s arrangement of Gershwin’s Love Walked In brought the evening to a sublime and logical close, as it echoed the popular song motif of the Liszt. Grosvenor is a unique creator of sound, worlds within worlds, attentive and nuanced. A riveting experience.

Paul Lewis CREDIT MolinaVisualsOn the last Thursday afternoon of July in a warm St. Andrew's Church (hand-held fans were provided) as part of Stratford Summer Music, British pianist Paul Lewis introduced what he called “true peaks of the piano repertoire,” Beethoven's last three piano sonatas. He spoke to his congregation as it were, those of us privileged to hear this supreme interpreter of Beethoven and Schubert, describing how he saw the pieces he was about to play.

The concert turned out to be the highlight of the summer.

Read more: Concert Report: Paul Lewis at Stratford Summer Music


The Borromeo String Quartet: (from left) Nicholas Kitchen, Yeesun Kim, Mai Motobuchi, Kristopher Tong

The tenth anniversary season of Toronto Summer Music reached a significant climax August 6 with two concerts late in the afternoon and into the evening. Robi Botos and Béla Bartók, two Hungarian-born émigrés to the New World, were appropriate poster boys for the well-conceived and multi-layered 2015 TSM festival just concluded.

Right from the opening concert concentrating on the music of Aaron Copland and George Gershwin, two children of immigrants to the United States, who fused elements of the old and new worlds in their compositions, to the Botos Shuffle Concert tribute to Oscar Peterson and the Borromeo String Quartet's traversal of the complete Bartók string quartets (in the course of one transformational evening), TSM more than met their conceptual theme of “The New World.”

Read more: Concert Report: Toronto Summer Music Wrap-Up
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