La Scena Musicale

Saturday, April 4, 2009

This Week in Toronto (April 4 - 10)

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

Photographer: Cylla von Tiedemann

This being Easter Week, there is a wealth of sacred music to choose from. Top on my list is Tafelmusik's St. Matthew Passion, performed in conjunction with Montreal's Les Voix Baroques, under the direction of Jeanne Lamon. There are twelve soloists, including Charles Daniels as Evangelist and Stephan MacLeod as Jesus. Countertenor Matthew White sings Alto. You can catch it at Tafelmusik's usual venue - Trinity St. Paul's Centre in downtown Toronto (April 2-5, 8), or at the acoustically wonderful George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts at 5040 Yonge Street in North York (April 7). This intimate recital hall has been woefully underused in recent years, so it is nice to see that occasionally you can still catch a show there.

Also on offer at the George Weston Hall this very evening (Sat., 7:30 pm April 4) is St. John Passion with the Amadeus Choir under conductor Lydia Adams. Soloists include Monica Whicher, James McLennon, Daniel Cabena, Daniel Auchincloss and Alexander Dobson. There is a rare chance to hear Puccini's Messa di Gloria, put on by Tryptych Chamber Choir at the Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2737 Bayview Avenue (Sunday April 5, 7:30 pm) Also on the program is Stanford's Stabat Mater, a piece I am not familiar with. I am also intrigued by the Canadian premiere of Karl Jenkins' Stabat Mater, at the All Saint's Kingsway Annglican Church, at 2850 Bloor Street West, on Good Friday. Now, if only someone would put on a concert performance of Wagner's Parsifal - I'd even settle for just the Good Friday music in Act Three :)

On Tuesday, April 7, German pianist Markus Groh is in town for a recital at the St. Lawrence Centre under the auspices of Music Toronto. On the program are Brahms, Liszt, plus Erwin Schulhoff's 5 Etudes de Jazz and a new piece by Jeffrey Ryan. On Thursday, April 9th, Canadian Sinfonietta presents violinist Catherine Manoukian in a program of Finzi, Arutunian and Dvorak, conducted by Tak Ng Lai, at the Glenn Gould Studio.

Finally I'd like to draw your attention to Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, put on by the Royal Conservatory of Music. I attended opening night last Thursday, and was completely bowled over by the high quality of the singing and the orchestral playing, under the baton of the great Mario Bernardi. I heard an all-round excellent cast, but particularly outstanding were Inga Filipova-Williams (Fiordiligi) and Wallis Giunta (Dorabella). There are two more performances, Sunday April 5 at 2 pm, and Tuesday April 7 at 1 pm. All performances at the Mazzoleni Hall of the Royal Conservatory of Music, 273 Bloor Street West. And all the performances are free! (Due to limited seating, you should arrive one hour ahead to get a voucher).

Atherton, Hong Kong Philharmonic and Labèque Sisters Captivate Audience!

Review by Paul E. Robinson

Classical Travels

This evening, we crossed the harbor from Hong Kong to Kowloon for a concert by the Hong Kong Philharmonic at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The orchestra’s conductor laureate, David Atherton, was on the podium and the Labèque Sisters (Katia and Marielle) were the featured pianists in works by Poulenc and Debussy.

Atherton began the evening’s all-French programme with BerliozCorsair Overture. From the opening string flourishes, it was clear that we were listening to a fine orchestra under the direction of a demanding and forceful conductor. The HK Philharmonic played with exemplary precision and Atherton built the climaxes with a knowing hand.

Next came Poulenc’s rarely-heard Concerto for Two Pianos. In his excellent notes, Marc Rochester rightly pointed out the Asian influences in the piece. Poulenc had heard some Balinese gamelan music in Paris in 1931, and the influence is clearly evident at the end of the first movement, and again in the finale. The concerto is typical of Poulenc in its combination of tunes that could have been borrowed from the popular music of the day, with episodes more chromatic and darker in feeling.

The Labèque sisters played the piece with their usual flair and sensitivity to color. Atherton and the orchestra made the most of the unusual orchestration. After intermission, the soloists returned to play Debussy’s En blanc et noir, a work for two pianos without orchestra.

Debussy had been shocked by the outbreak of war the previous year and by the death of a close friend Jacques Charlot, an editor at the Durand publishing house, who was killed in battle. The second of the three movements in En blanc et noir was written in memory of Charlot. The performance was ideal.

Finally, Atherton and the HK Philharmonic presented Franck’s Symphony in D minor, in a truly a remarkable performance. This piece can be a tiresome experience; in the hands of most conductors it never seems to get going - the stops and starts seem endless.

With Atherton shaping the phrases and making sure that each was given time to breathe, the piece had a convincing inner logic. Nor was Atherton afraid to exhort the power of his brass, all the while superbly in control of the performance as a whole. His tempo for the slow movement was, to my mind, exactly right - just a shade slower than usual - and served to bring out the dolefulness of the music.

It’s difficult to generalize after only one concert, but I would venture to say that the quality of sound from the violin section can be attributed to the leadership of concertmaster John Harding. A vast range of bow strokes were used over the course of the concert, and the violins led by Harding covered a huge dynamic range, from the tenderest pp to the most powerful ff.
For the record, I was sitting in the stalls (ground floor, middle) about seven rows back from the stage. It seemed to me that the sound here was much better than in the balcony where I had sat for a concert earlier this month.

Under Edo de Waart (music director), and David Atherton (conductor laureate), the Hong Kong Philharmonic is in very good hands. The orchestra gives almost weekly subscription concerts, spends a lot of its time on educational programmes throughout the SAR (Special Administrative region…i.e., Hong Kong), and recently made a tour to several cities in China.

I was surprised to find that there were no recordings by the HK Philharmonic, Edo de Waart, David Atherton or any of the orchestra’s illustrious soloists available for sale at the HK Cultural Centre store. Surely this is a major marketing oversight that will soon be remedied!

Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar and Sir Georg Solti: his Life and Music, both available at

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