Mozart with the Toronto Symphony

2007-02-23 / Toronto Star / John Terauds

Pianist shines with TSO

You can’t beat the musical contrast of the late 18th-century lightness of Mozart and the late 19th-century grandeur of Anton Bruckner.

It’s also hard to find a greater stylistic stretch for the conductor.

But that’s exactly what the Toronto Symphony is up to at Roy Thomson Hall this week in a two-evening program featuring former music director Günther Herbig (who led the TSO from 1989 to 1994) and star pianist Angela Hewitt.

The Canadian piano player, who now lives abroad, was the evening’s flash of unalloyed brilliance.

Hewitt played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27, K. 595, with the poise and meticulous attention to both the forest and the trees that have earned respect around the world.

Each note was perfectly placed within carefully contoured phrases. Hewitt’s fingers whisked by the keys more than touched down on them.

If her music-making were jewellery, it would be a perfect string of graduated pearls.

Unfortunately, the small, Mozart-sized ensemble arrayed onstage wasn’t playing the same style. The violins, in particular, sounded thin and lacked the articulated sound to match what was coming from the keyboard.

Herbig’s sweet, buttery Mozart sound would have been fine 30 years ago but, thanks to the period-performance movement, we now know that compositions of the Classical era need crisper interpretations.

Hewitt’s job was done within a half-hour of the lights going down. The rest of the evening belonged to Bruckner, one of the giants of the 19th century.

His oft-revised Symphony No. 3 is a nearly hour-long journey of dynamic contrasts on the surface and a multitude of ingenious contrapuntal effects holding up the massive structure.

This gives both novices and devotees a wealth of musical effects to listen for.

The brasses made the most of their chorus-like blasts, but Herbig (who conducted from memory) and the rest of the orchestra didn’t do full justice to the subtler aspects of this dense score. There was nothing overtly wrong with what the orchestra did last night, but the music never took off from the score Bruckner had revised for the last time in 1889.

The challenge of the program remained unmet in the end. Which doesn’t mean that another conductor shouldn’t give it another try soon.