by Anthony Kershaw
The Russian Gems of the title were The Enchanted Lake by Liadov, Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto played by Leila Josefowicz and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. The rejuvenated Toronto Symphony was conducted by Russian, Andrey Boreyko.
Boreyko is presently MD of orchestras in Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Belgium. His Canadian chops were honed in Vancouver and a particularly successful tenure in Winnipeg. He has the look of a dashing conductor (sometimes, a curse) but also the technique and musical persuasion to develop into a very fine musician. He did the Toronto orchestra and audience proud.
The opening piece, the quiet to somewhat quiet, The Enchanted Lake (by the lazy Liadov — think Firebird) was hampered by what sounded like an electronic muffled tapping coming from the rafters. The musicians laughed it off after looking somewhat befuddled and turned in a magical performance. Strings were diaphanous, brass and woodwinds interjected with grace and subtlety. This tricky piece highlighted Boreyko’s technique and musicianship. His left hand is instructive, not intrusive, and he uses his body as I feel a conductor should — no dancing, just directing. His ultra clear beat and ability to convey exactly what he wants must be an unalloyed pleasure for the musicians. And they paid him in kind.
The Stravinsky Violin Concerto seems like neither a Concerto nor a Gem. The wonderful Canadian violinist, Leila Josefowicz was a passionate supporter of the Neoclassical work, but Stravinsky (who had reservations about his ability to write effectively for this instrument) uses the violin as a percussive accompanist to the interesting and eccentric orchestral writing. More Pulcinella than Pergolesi.
I’ve played the Octet and Dumbarton Oaks, both much better examples of Stravinsky’s neoclassical style and worth exploring. The fiddle Concerto ranks with those of Britten and Dvorak, other geniuses where the form failed them. Boreyko had the measure of the work — he bought out the quirkiness of the orchestral writing but in the final Capriccio, things came a cropper in the basses just a little. More rehearsal, maybe?
Prokofiev’s greatest work, the incredible Fifth Symphony was given an exceptional reading. Things did not begin well. For sure, the playing was fine, and got better and better as the work continued, but in the first movement, Boreyko let the composer down. Too fussy, too slow, too ponderous, were some of my mental notes. His fussiness let down the violins in the tricky sixteenth note passages in the development section. And the balance was wrong in many sections.
Things improved in the Allegro Marcato second movement. Here, his fastidiousness (not fussiness) reaped great rewards. The solo woodwinds and the many solos were wonderful.
It was the intensely beautiful Adagio and final Allegro Giocoso where the Toronto Symphony threw caution to the wind, and went into overdrive. Controlled overdrive. The orchestra played magnificently. So much intensity, such beautiful solos (kudos to clarinet section), and so much passion. Awesome! Watch Boreyko carefully. He’s one of the young Russians, along with Vasily Petrenko, now working miracles in Liverpool, Andris Nelsons, the wunderkind of the CBSO, and Vladimir Jurowski, the London Philharmonic’s secret weapon.
Whither the Toronto Symphony? We must pay homage to the orchestra’s present music director, Peter Oundjian. He is obviously an outstanding orchestral trainer. The consistency of the orchestra I’ve experienced over the past few years has been a real treat. The performances have been very fine with disparate conductors and in many different styles of music. Bravo. Onwards.