So how did he fare? On Thursday evening, when I heard him, he revealed himself to be a solid soloist. His tone was solid (he had no trouble soaring above the orchestra he usually strives to blend in with), his technique was solid, and his rhythm was also solid.
To be sure, solidity is a fine thing, when it’s the underlying foundation for all the other things a great concerto performance needs. But in Crow’s Beethoven, many of those other things – spontaneity, flexibility, sparkle, delicacy, shading of colour, and such – weren’t always in evidence. As a result, in Crow’s hands, Beethoven’s virtuosic showpiece became a very serious undertaking.
This was most apparent in the first and last movements. Here, Crow and guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard settled into some less-than-exciting tempos, and security, rather than risk-taking, were the order of the day. Cadenzas were careful and calculated, and passage-work sounded laboured. Happily, the middle movement was more successful, with long lyrical phrases emanating from Crow’s violin.
The TSO’s concertmaster was well applauded for his efforts – but to my ears, his performance was a succès d’estime. I look forward to next time I hear this concerto played by an established concert soloist.
Paired with the Beethoven was a lesser-known work, Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3, dubbed the “Sinfonia Espansiva.” From the downbeat, it was apparent that Dausgaard had some strong ideas about this music, and knew how to convey them to the orchestra. Indeed, his obvious enthusiasm for his compatriot’s work was infectious, and as he threw himself around the podium the TSO responded with dazzling outbursts of energy and colour.
A charming playfulness animated the third movement, and the finale was a breathtaking romp, forcefully driven forward by Dausgaard. Together, he and the TSO persuasively pleaded the Espansiva’s case: it should be heard more often. As well, such a performance bodes well for the TSO’s upcoming Nielsen Festival, which Dausgaard will lead, from November 12-22, next fall.
But I haven’t mentioned the Espansiva’s second movement. I really don’t know what possessed the TSO to bring in a pair of vocal students from the University of Toronto for the solo passages. Unfortunately, their insecure performances made it apparent that they weren’t quite ready for their Roy Thomson Hall debuts. I won’t mention their names here – and I wish them well in their studies.
© Colin Eatock 2013