No dialing down was necessary for Kuerti, however. At the age of 74, he may not be as spry as he once was, but he oozes affinity and authority where the Mittel-European musical traditions are concerned. Throughout the concerto, his playing was rich, nuanced and rhetorically satisfying.
Ontario Philharmonic music director Marco Parisotto coaxed long, expressive lines from his orchestra, which responded with a bigger sound than their numbers might have suggested. This is a lean ensemble, especially in the string department – yet unlike some regional orchestras, the strings are a strong suit.
The principal cellist, in her extended second-movement solo, acquitted herself admirably – as did the various wind soloists throughout the concerto. (I’d like to name names here, but there was no list of the orchestra’s players in the program.)
The all-Brahms evening concluded with his Symphony No. 4, which Parisotto conducted from memory. From his downbeat, a single-minded intensity permeated the whole symphony, which at times was positively overwhelming. Generally speaking, this was a glorious thing – although such full-throttle playing occasionally became raw and harsh.
Parisotto missed an opportunity for contrast by bringing his intense approach into the second movement. But his “gangbusters” third movement was thrilling stuff, and every drop of drama was milked from a daringly spirited finale.
If I entered the hall with doubts that the Ontario Philharmonic had any business playing in downtown Toronto, I left convinced that this orchestra is ready for prime time.
It’s too bad about the name, though. For most of its history, the Ontario Philharmonic was known as the Oshawa Philharmonic. But a few years ago the orchestra made a bold name-change that seems to lay claim to a pre-eminent stature in the province. Such grandiose gestures invite unfavourable comparisons – the OP is not in the same league as the Toronto Symphony or the National Arts Centre Orchestra – and can border on false advertising. (Do you remember the pretentiously named “Royal Opera Canada”?)
Rumour has it there’s a pretty good band in Cleveland, Ohio – of all places – that calls itself the Cleveland Orchestra. So what’s wrong with the Oshawa Philharmonic?
© Colin Eatock 2012