by Anthony Kershaw
Thomas Dausgaard, conductor
Pekka Kuusisto, violin
Sibelius: Symphony No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 39
Sibelius: Humoresque No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 87, No. 1
Sibelius: Humoresque No. 2 in D Major, Op. 87, No. 2
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43
Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto
Thomas Dausgaard is Chief Conductor of the fine Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra in his hometown of Copenhagen. He is getting excellent press for his performances with this orchestra and his many guest conducting appearances around the world. I’m hearing that the members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra very much enjoy his style and musicianship.
Concert begins at 8. I’ll publish my review shortly thereafter.
April 14, 2010. Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, ON — A wonderful beginning to the Toronto Symphony’s exciting Sibelius Festival tonight at Roy Thomson Hall. The Symphonies are being performed chronologically over three concerts by guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard and the TSO.
The opening night included the first two symphonies and two violin miniatures, the Humoresques 1 and 2. The Humoresques, played with great verve by Pekka Kuususto, violin, supplied a frothy and brief interlude between two masterpieces of the symphonic repertoire.
Sibelius wrote his Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2 over a very fruitful four years between 1898 and 1902. The 1st Symphony is influenced heavily by Tchaikovsky, especially in its orchestration, but from the plaintive opening clarinet solo, one is quickly aware of a singular, special voice in musical design and inspiration. The 2nd Symphony contains much national sentiment, but was actually composed in sunny Italy. Yet, much of the sparseness of the Finnish landscape is heard clearly through its beautiful melodies, brooding harmonies and meticulous orchestration.
Whither the Toronto Symphony Orchestra? In my years of listening to the orchestra, I have never heard them play with such care, such passion, such character, and with such accuracy. Even the CBC announcer, after the intermission, commented ‘never hearing the “local band” sound so good’. Much of the cause of this excellence must be laid directly at the feet of Dausgaard. He is a fabulous conductor. An arch musician. Nothing is flashy — his very tidy technique and musical expectations are clearly understood by the orchestra. And they gave him everything tonight.
His concept of Sibelius is one of clarity, incision, a huge range of dynamics, and fast (not hurried) tempos. Many conductors dwell too long on the big moments and the big tunes, much to the detriment of balance. Dausgaard was very effective in making each movement cogent and concise, beautiful and thrilling.
The solos were played with great beauty, with special mentions to Sarah Jeffrey, oboe and Michael Sweeney bassoon. That said, all the soloists played beautifully. And to play with such projection and character in the poor acoustics of Roy Thomson Hall is no small feat.
Interestingly, we were treated to an encore. Valse Triste, another Sibelius gem. This was played with even more extreme dynamics, and to fabulous effect. It was so musical and the strings sounded exquisite. I thought I’d heard the quietest and most beautiful strings possible from the Cleveland Orchestra in this hall a couple of months ago, but the Toronto Symphony played even more quietly, but with no loss of beauty or focus. A gorgeous end to a magnificent evening.
The performance is repeated tomorrow at 2. Bunk off work and give yourself a treat. In fact, try to attend all the concerts of the Festival.
More information at the TSO website.