The last two TSO Live releases have been instructive in the vibrant and developing life of this famous orchestra. The TSO’s Vaughan-Williams Symphonies 4 & 5 album won Audiophilia’s 2011 Star Recording of the Year. On the album was a luminous performance of VW’s sublime and serene 5th, and a better, world class recording of the much more volcanic 4th. The 5th was recorded some years back, the 4th recently.
The same time frame separates this Russian concoction of two different musical minds — Stravinsky’s seminal Rite of Spring (celebrating its 100th anniversary) and Rachmaninoff’s brilliantly orchestrated Symphonic Dances. The Rite is from 2007, the Dances recorded last year. Like its VW predecessor, one piece receives a fine, perfectly acceptable reading, and one now vies for top place in its recorded pantheon.
The orchestra’s Music Director, the wonderfully musical Peter Oundjian has been inspiring, and along with his astute hiring acumen (the TSO has improved in all areas, with some world class soloists), and an improvement in the acoustics of Roy Thomson Hall, all have contributed to the improvement. And, it can be heard easily in the recordings.
That’s not to say the earlier Rite of Spring is not a fine performance, but there are better recordings available. The DGG LA Philharmonic with Salonen jumps to mind — another much improved orchestra. It’s when we listen to the stunning performance of the Rachmaninoff that we hear the spit and polish and the confidence of a partnership that knows and trusts each other. I would place this Symphonic Dances at the top of my current favourites.
I have just reviewed the magnificent performance of the Dances with Vasily Petrenko and his super improved orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. It is fantastic, no doubt. But, the Toronto Symphony under scrutiny are in even better shape. Toronto’s trumpet is incredible (the brilliant Andrew McCandless — lock him down, guys, a Big Five will be calling, for sure), low brass and strings, too. Even the RLPO’s vaunted woodwinds are matched. Listen to the opening of the first dance for the TSO’s controlled power, the musicality (and individual character) of the soloists (trumpet, saxophone, bass clarinet), and the enjoyment they bring to the event. This is an orchestra now having fun and revelling in its own virtuosity. A little bit like Montreal from the early ‘80s.
Oundjian gets a lot of the Russian singing quality out of his strings in the Rachmaninoff and his interpretation is very Petrenko-like. Oundjian’s Rite is musical and thorough. You won’t get early Boulez/Cleveland or Stravinsky’s own snarly performance, nor von Karajan’s smoothness (Stravinsky said Karajan conducted it in ‘Tempo di Hoochie Koochie’!). It’s powerful and professional.
So, enjoy the Rite but run to buy this CD for the fantastic Symphonic Dances. It’s among Rachmaninoff’s greatest works, the orchestration is stunning and it has the great melodies without too much of the Rachmaninoff swoon. And, in Oundjian and his great orchestra, it may well have found its way to the top of a crowded list of famous performances. Bravo!
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Release date: Aug 6, 2013
Label: Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Total Length: 1:09:03