Toronto Symphony/Hewitt/Oundjian

2005-01-14 / Toronto Star / William Littler

Mozart with balance, proportion and style

Like apples, broccoli and a full night’s sleep, Mozart is good for you. His music even makes you smarter, if we are to believe the promulgators of the so-called Mozart Effect on children.

So who can complain if the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in an act of bravery worthy of the Italian army, devoted last night’s packed-house concert at Roy Thomson Hall to the first of three programs this month comprising a sort of mini Mozart festival?

Mozart at 249, as the event is known — doubtless to disarm those of us with the temerity to point out that 2006 marks the composer’s real anniversary year — takes advantage of the fact that Peter Oundjian, the orchestra’s 200 years younger music director, was widely known, during his years as a violinist, as a stylish Mozartean.

He still is a stylish Mozartean, judging by the program he chose and the way he conducted it last night. Despite the broken monopoly in orchestral Mozart brought about by the admirable activities of the period performance movement, there remains a place for performances by a generalist, modern instrument-playing orchestra when led by a musician with Oundjian’s instincts for balance, proportion and style.

What a fine idea it was to open the program with the underplayed Symphony No. 25 in G Minor, K. 183, whose ferociously dramatic opening movement represents an astonishing achievement for a composer of 17 years, even if it did on this occasion expose how much Oundjian’s sensitizing work with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s string sections is widening the gap separating their level of performance from that of the fallible French horns.

Mozart was an even younger 16 when he composed the overplayed Divertimento in D Major, K. 136 for strings and it might be argued that festivals should not be about re-stating the obvious but about programming less well-known music. But then, one would also have to criticize the inclusion of Cherubino’s Second Act and Susanna’s Fourth Act arias from The Marriage of Figaro and who would have wanted to do without Karina Gauvin’s beautiful singing of them?

Still, it was a far more festive thing to have programmed “Voi avete un cor fedele,” K. 217, the replacement aria Mozart wrote for Baldassare Galuppi’s opera Le nozze di Dorina, and “Ch’io mi scordi di te — Non temer, K. 505,” the similarly off-beat concert aria he wrote for Nancy Storace, the former highlighting how Gauvin could preserve the creamy smoothness of her soprano tone even when tossing off high-lying coloratura.

The Storace aria also served to introduce the program’s other soloist, Angela Hewitt, who dispatched the important piano obbligato with the fluency and elegance we have come to expect of her performances of 18th century music.

Her principal contribution to the program was nevertheless as soloist in the Piano Concerto in B-flat Major, K. 450, another under-played score restored here to pristine eloquence.