The Ontario Philharmonic Orchestra is a regional orchestra that has 56 years of history in the province of Ontario. Led by music director Marco Parisotto, the Ontario Phil enjoys local community support to performances given chiefly at the Regent Theater in Oshawa, Ontario. Recently, they have expanded their concerts to include the venue at Koerner Hall in Toronto, partly to take advantage of its fine acoustics and transparency of sound. They also appear to want to make themselves more accessible to the growing Toronto population. For example, just last month, they gave an all-Tchaikovsky concert in part to celebrate the acclaimed violinist Shlomo Mintz and his 50 years on stage. It was a celebration that was widely popular.

Anton Kuerti
Anton Kuerti

Continuing on with presenting the works of a single composer, Friday’s concert concentrated on later works by Johannes Brahms. These compositions of Brahms’ are defined by thorough writing, employing thematic motifs used as a means of self-expression, and remarkable imagination. The grand Piano Concerto no. 2 in B flat incorporates a number of daring challenges to both soloist and orchestra in its atypical four-movement structure. Taking on this daunting task as soloist was the experienced Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti. In the first movement, we hear an introspective reading and a longing melodic line. As the music matured, Mr Kuerti gradually brought out the tonal tensions, the complex voicing, and the technical finger-passages, in fine form. The solo horn entry enhanced the orchestral texture with its refreshing theme, giving the platform for Mr Kuerti to echo this with dashing piano arpeggios. Then, in the cadenza, Mr Kuerti delivered a dramatic cadenza that propelled the music its tempestuous end.

In the second movement, the soloist and orchestral players maintained a wistful charm in their musical exchanges; though in a few of the daunting episodes they came short in finesse and technical polish. In the third movement, the melody of the solo cello was graced by the Ontario Phil’s principal cellist, in which she made her instrument sing vividly. Her playing helped listeners probe into what Brahms might have been thinking at the time of writing. Mr Kuerti also rendered his piano parts in rustic beauty, particularly in his dialogue with the principal clarinettist in the central section of this movement. A good tempo was chosen in the Finale, which helped all the musicians bring out details of the symphony’s character. This movement also showed off Mr Kuerti’s virtuosity one final time, as he brought out effective contrasts and colouring at the music’s playful conclusion. At the age of 74, Mr Kuerti’s dashing virtuosity is charged and gripping.

The Symphony no. 4 in E minor is perhaps the most widely performed out of Brahms’ four symphonies. One of the reasons for this is that the Fourth particularly tests players’ skills, and their thorough understanding of the work’s varied but vivid compositional styles. Brahms had taken the form of the symphony onwards to new heights, with more complex musical language and structural depths. Moreover, the Fourth illustrates the craftsmanship of its conductor and the ideas he or she imparts on the orchestral players. This performance with Mr Parisotto and the Ontario Phil delivered a combination of these facets in various degrees.

Take, for example, the first two movements. The first introduced clean articulation from the woodwinds, balanced and supple both in sound and tone, especially when all eight players approached a chord together. The strings, though, did sound weak at first, as if they lacked grip, and this was later validated when Mr Parisotto gave the necessary hand signals. In the second movement, the long solo string passages sounded much improved, as they warmed up to the hall’s acoustics and flowed in line with the music’s emotional involvement. The woodwinds provided well-woven layering to build up the audience’s anticipation of the forthcoming movements.

Mr Parisotto and the Ontario Phil did not stop merely in achieving fine, physical playing, but they challenged themselves to the emotional demands of the last two movements. Here, the rhythmic drive and urgency were essential to direct the work to its full culmination, under the meticulous supervision of Mr Parisotto. The third movement had lyrical moments that imbued an organic character to the sound, while it matured in the Finale. Here, in a series of melodic and chordal progressions, we experienced how Mr Parisotto painstakingly built up the tension with an electrifying release from his orchestral force. The expansive development section showed off the cohesion of the orchestral players as a single unit. This made Mr Parisotto’s job moderately easy, in bringing the final pages of this movement to its ferocious but exhilarating close. This was a rewarding experience.