Borealis – II: Wondrous Light
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Scheherazade – Symphonic Suite, Op.35
Jan Lisiecki (piano)
Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 7 January, 2016
Venue: Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center, Miami, Florida
Continuing the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Florida tour, this concert opened with ‘Wondrous Light’ by John Estacio (born 1966), the second movement of his four-part work, Borealis (1997), in which he tries to capture the energy and speed of the flickering lights of the Aurora Borealis natural phenomenon, seen frequently in Canada’s northern regions. The swirling introductory passage gives way to a theme on oboe, which is subjected to variations. Peter Oundjian sustained a high energy level as TSO, with winds and trumpets prominent, built to a climax. After a pause, the theme morphed into a chorale tune announced by trombones and then developed to a majestic conclusion.
Jan Lisiecki joined the TSO for Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. He played with poise and technical prowess. After the piano’s poetic introduction – a remarkable innovation – Oundjian drew a distinctive Beethovenian sound from the orchestra in response. Lisiecki and Oundjian stayed in close partnership, delightfully exchanging musical ideas while maintaining an apt balance. Lisiecki dashed off scales and arpeggios with effusive energy and gave a brilliant account of the first of the two cadenzas provided by the composer. The Andante con moto, an extraordinary creation, found Lisiecki’s delicate touch making the piano’s pacifying of the curt strings seem inevitable. Trumpets and timpani join for the playful Finale, Lisiecki again displaying virtuosity as piano and orchestra exchanged material in often surprising ways.
The concert’s second half was devoted to a brilliant reading of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, featuring concertmaster Jonathan Crow’s superb violin solos. The spirit of Rimsky’s lush melodies and fascinating rhythms was fully captured. The excellent brass, answered by violin and harp, stated the most important motifs before the strings emulated surging waves in ‘The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship’. Beginning with Michael Sweeney’s outstanding bassoon contribution, ‘The Story of the Kalendar Prince’ wove a sinuous dance. The violins were outstanding with the lovely opening of ‘The Young Prince and the Young Princess’, with Joaquin Valdepeñas’s clarinet adding florid figures. The final ‘Festival at Baghdad’, including the climactic ship hitting the rocks, closed with Crow’s lullaby-like passage making for a happy ending as the eponymous Sultana is finally spared by her husband after regaling him with fantastical stories for 1,001 nights. This performance was a triumph.
As an encore was the rousing ‘Polonaise’ from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, surpassing the account in West Palm Beach a few days earlier.