The Toronto Symphony Orchestra kicked off their new year with the Mozart@256 Festival. Thursday night’s concert warmly welcomed guest conductor and pianist Leon Fleisher, as well as pianists Stewart Goodyear and Katherine Jacobson Fleisher. Leon Fleisher, at 83 years of age, continues to wow audiences around the world as a conductor, soloist, recitalist, chamber musician and masterclass mentor. Leon’s wife Katherine made her TSO début in this concert in Mozart’s F major concerto for three pianos. She is an active soloist, duo pianist, and chamber musician. Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, the soloist for the evening's other Mozart concerto, studied under Leon Fleisher while attending the Curtis Institute. Since making his début with the TSO in 1990, he has become an accomplished concerto soloist, chamber musician, and composer.

Leon Fleisher, © Eli Turner
Leon Fleisher,
© Eli Turner

The evening commenced with the energetic and brisk sounds of Mozart’s Symphony no. 1 in E flat, K16. Composed in 1764, this was one of Mozart’s earlier works, written at the age of just nine. It was composed in London during a tour of Europe, and was influenced by the classical great Johann Christian Bach. The TSO set a joyous mood for the evening with crisp scalic runs and well-defined, boastful themes. The second movement was subtle and, although quite simple, executed with a colorful emotion and tone that one could easily identify as Mozart’s. The lively third movement was joyous, vivacious, and high-spirited. The TSO layered the melody and accompaniment with meticulousness and balance.

The years 1785-86 are noted as highly creative and successful for Mozart, bringing forth compositions such as the Piano Concertos nos. 22-24, the Singspiel The Impresario, and his masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro. The orchestral introduction of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 in A, K488 was masterfully executed by Leon Fleisher in a statement-like manner. Stewart Goodyear, playing the piano part, entered with much rubato, which added a distinctive feel to a commonly performed composition. Upon the orchestra’s re-entry, there was a feeling of unity between soloist, orchestra and conductor. The second movement evoked a free, liberal mood, the performance enhancing the essence and beauty of Mozart’s writing. Goodyear astonished Roy Thomson Hall with enthusiasm and immense technical precision in the concluding movement.

Leon Fleisher, Katherine Jacobson Fleisher and Stewart Goodyear assembled in a unique format to perform Mozart’s Concerto in F for three pianos, K242. This piece predominantly featured the pianists with very little orchestral accompaniment, as the three pianists often accompanied themselves. The clarity and precision were excellent throughout the performance, with Leon conducting while he played. The call-and-response dialogue between soloists was crisp and defined. This was a pleasure to experience and the three performers combined wonderfully and seamlessly.

The concert was enterprisingly programmed to allow Fleisher to conduct both Mozart’s first and last symphonies. The Symphony no. 41 in C, K551 ‘Jupiter’ contains an endless amount of imagination. In the first movement Fleisher embarked on an extravagant journey of stimulating ascending lines and animated melodies. The second movement was light with a lovely dynamic contrast. The Menuetto countered this with an elaborate, almost waltz-like feel. The audience was readily engaged in the passion displayed by both Fleisher and the TSO. The final movement displays influences from the past, eventually incorporating five themes into remarkable fugal counterpoint. Here, the TSO kept the audience actively working to distinguish the melodies amidst a rich sound, concluding with a dramatic ritardando.