Concert Review: Toronto Symphony Orchestra – Perlman Plays Tchaikovsky


Perlman Plays Tchaikovsky

Thurs. Sep. 26, 2013 at 8:00pm

Roy Thomson Hall

Peter Oundjian, conductor

Itzhak Perlman, violin

Joaquin Valdepeñas, clarinet


Britten/arr. Colin Matthews: Movements for a Clarinet Concerto (Canadian Première)

Walton: Symphony No. 1

Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto


Before getting into the review, I’d like to say a thing or two about the recordings that I share in these concert reviews and by extension in this blog in general. The principal objective of my reviews is not to critique performances, but to direct interest to and provide insight for the music and people involved. The videos and recordings in these posts are shared for educational purposes, and with the intention to facilitate the incubation and growth of interest in music to readers who may otherwise not be exposed to such material. As this website does not own the shared content in most cases, it shall not be responsible for its upkeep.

About once a year, Itzhak Perlman visits Toronto for engagements with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Having been Peter Oundjian’s violin teacher and mentor, Perlman is always received with a warm welcome, as well as packed auditoriums that surely have long become the norm for him. This year, he performed the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. Before that, the TSO performed two pieces by British composers in the first half of the concert: the Canadian première of Britten’s Movements for a Clarinet Concerto, and Walton’s Symphony No. 1. The Walton Symphony, Peter Oundjian explained, is a rarely performed gem on his list of 20th and even 21st century masterpieces that he wishes could be in the standard repertoire.

The concert started off with the TSO’s own Joaquin Valdepeñas playing Movements for a Clarinet Concerto, a piece that Britten started but did not necessarily complete. The concerto had some catchy melodies and a nice contrast of moods between movements. What caught my attention the most was the orchestration, though I am not sure how much of this should be attributed to Britten himself versus the arranger Colin Matthews. Despite using a full orchestra, this composition maintains a very chamber music-like sound through the use of many solos and duos in the orchestra, as well as between orchestra and the soloist. As is usually the case, Joaquin Valdepeñas’s performance was accurate and very enjoyable. I certainly hope that this piece grows in popularity.

The Walton Symphony No. 1, in contrast with the Britten, uses a very large and full-sounding orchestra. At the beginning of the concert, Peter Oundjian explained that Walton had drawn inspiration from his breakup with the dedicatee of this work. The resulting tension can definitely be heard throughout the symphony, especially the first movement. The first and second movement were both of such grandeur that I (and evidently much of the audience) felt the urge to applaud at their conclusions. The symphony is extremely dramatic, and is filled with passages and moments that bring audience members to the edge of their seats; one conductor friend of mine would say the symphony is full of passages “where conductors make their money”, much like those in Beethoven overtures. Perhaps due to the novelty of the two pieces performed, I must say the orchestra and conductor still had that slight air of disconnection present in the last concert I saw.

Itzhak Perlman’s performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto has always held a special place in my heart because of this recording. This video, along with those of the subsequent movements, is in fact what started my passion for classical music, and I do believe that every single person in the world needs to see it. Perlman’s Tchaikovsky circa 1990 will always be the definitive interpretation of the concerto in my mind. I had the chance to see Perlman perform the Beethoven concerto a few years ago, so I already had an idea what to expect going into this concert. He has obviously aged considerably since 1990, and has much less time to practice due to his teaching and conducting endeavors, but he has kept his charm and commanding presence. The audience loved him and gave him the most thunderous of applause.

In closing, this concert, like many others, was a very pleasant surprise in that the programming besides the main feature showed me something new and exciting. Perlman is certainly a spectacle, but the Walton Symphony and the Britten Concerto are definitely pieces I will keep an eye out for in the future. A final note to anybody from the TSO or P&G that might be reading this: there is an obvious high demand for lozenges and cough drops in the TSO audience; I posit that a mutually beneficial partnership is easily achievable.

JC 20130926


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