The Planets Are In Alignment For Oundjian And The TSO

TSO Conductor Emeritus Peter Oundjian (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Rossini: Overture to La gazza ladra; Coleridge-Taylor: Ballade in A Minor; Mendelssohn: Concert Piece No. 2; Holst: The Planets. Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian conducting. Wed, Nov. 9–Sat, Nov. 12, 2022, Roy Thomson Hall. Tickets here.

A surefire hit at the box office, Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets can also be relied on to succeed in performance. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra attracted a healthy crowd to Roy Thomson Hall Wednesday night to hear conductor emeritus Peter Oundjian unlock its many sonic wonders.

Each of the seven movements was aptly characterized, starting with a fiercely brassy Mars. Sultry Venus was delicately balanced and adorned with fine solos, notably by Neil Deland, whose horn calls were so near and yet so far.

Mercury, the Winged Messenger, was playful at a moderate tempo, and Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age, evoked that inevitable state with reedy flutes as well as a solemn tread. Jupiter made a boisterous impression, its central tune full-toned if not quite full-hearted. Some great melodies need a little extra nudging to liberate the qualities for which they are already famous.

Not that strings were in any way wanting. Double basses, so often taken for granted, sounded like stars. The brass section, which strikes me as brighter in tone than the unit Oundjian led a decade ago, was appropriately aggressive in Uranus. The conductor managed the processional crescendo to great effect.

The backstage vocalise of Neptune was realized by 48 singers (some young adults) of the Toronto Children’s Chorus and Toronto Youth Choir. They made an ethereal sound.

Other highlights could be mentioned. The celesta chimed merrily and the organ thundered. Will the repeat performances of Thursday and Saturday occasion an even higher degree of togetherness? There is one way to find out.

Oundjian started the program in pops mode with Rossini’s Overture to La gazza ladra. Violins were agile, but full-orchestra passages seemed heavy. This music should make you laugh.

Next came Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade in A Minor Op. 33, a work of 1898 that came about, as Oundjian explained to the audience, on the recommendation of Edward Elgar. Its alternations of turbulence and tuneful romance were appealing, even if overextended at 12 minutes.

Mendelssohn’s Konzertstück No. 2 Op. 114 was, if anything, too short at eight minutes, although Eric Abramovitz (clarinet) and Miles Jaques (basset horn, an alto-range clarinet) certainly had enough notes to play. They gurgled vivaciously, wearing sequin nightclub jackets, just in case we were tempted to take the music too seriously. There was a duo encore with klezmer overtones.

The audience was delighted. They were quiet and attentive during the Holst. No clapping between movements. Good stuff.

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