La Scena Musicale

Thursday, October 22, 2009

TSO principal clarinetist delivers in Mozart concerto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

It was sweet and robust at Roy Thomson Hall last night, when the Toronto Symphony Orchestra first featured one of its own on centre stage, followed by “the greatest symphony since Beethoven.”

Now in his 30th year with the TSO, principal clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas delivered Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved Clarinet Concert in A Major, K. 622 with grace, temper, and delight.

Valdepeñas, also a founding member of Toronto’s celebrated Amici Chamber Ensemble, began the opening Allegro with flawless technique, in a courtly Mozartian style led by conductor Peter Oundjian. The tone Valdepeñas produced in both high and low registers of his instrument was warm and expressive.

In the Adagio, Valdepeñas displayed a deep and sensitive reading of the score. Both soloist and orchestra demonstrated first-class ensemble work in this poignant movement.

In the finale Rondo: Allegro, Valdepeñas tackled the composer’s intricate runs with lucid articulation and phrasing. Written in October 1791, the Clarinet Concerto was one of Mozart’s last fully completed instrumental works before he died two months later. Mozart did not write a cadenza for this concerto, but Valdepeñas showed off his polished fingering and controlled breathing effortlessly nevertheless.

However, the clarity of sound coming both from Valdepeñas and the orchestra was not always there, although that may have had to do more with the acoustics of the hall rather than the musicians.

With no intermission, the second and final piece of work on the program was English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, completed in 1934, which British composer William Walton once said was "the greatest symphony since Beethoven."

Valdepeñas didn’t get the star treatment and joined his colleagues on stage to tackle this brassy four-movement work.

Vaughan Williams, often known for his collection of English folk music and song, wrote nine symphonies. Fueled with anger, humour, and mania, the fourth is one of his most dissonant and frequently-performed works.

The TSO, under the baton of Oundjian, sculpted a sensible structure for the complex piece that is centred around a four-note motif.

Here, romantic at times and full of surprises, every attack, pizzicato, and pluck was powerful and reached the back of the hall.

The concert, which began at 6:30 p.m. and wrapped up five minutes before 8 p.m., was one of TSO's new Afterworks concert series. The program repeats Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. and Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m., with the addition of the Canadian premiere of Sid Ramin's orchestration of Leonard Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata.

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