February 2nd’s Masterworks Concert saw the return of two iconic figures to Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall. Günther Herbig, TSO music director from 1988-1994 was warmly welcomed back to Toronto to lead the orchestra through the week’s concerts. Pianist Anton Kuerti was also greatly received by the audience, making his 40th appearance with the TSO.

Anton Kuerti
Anton Kuerti

Kuerti took to the stage to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73, “Emperor,” his final concerto. This piece is very commonly referred to as “the Eroica with piano.” The heroism began with a burst of lively piano runs surrounded by epic orchestral chords. The idea of luxury brought forth by an Emperor was well embedded in the TSO’s sound, feel and direction by Maestro Herbig. Kuerti’s cadenzas were extravagant and his subtle touch of rubato added a lavish feel to the concerto. The second movement was embraced with much emotion and was very touching. The brief woodwind interlude was pristine and added an immense brightness to such a somber movement. The seamless progression from second to third movements saw Kuerti convert the mood with a strong cadenza varying from a beautifully solemn feel to an excitedly joyous celebration. This intricate piece demanded that the orchestra share one brain and work towards one goal: and they did so with ease.

The second half featured Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 10 in E minor, Op. 93. Stalin’s death in March 1953 provoked this symphony’s rather rapid composition that summer. It was first performed in Leningrad on December 17, 1953, and it aroused heated criticism due to its modern, gloomy feel. Regardless of these thoughts, it was a great success amongst the musicians and the public. It is noted, though, as a piece which rescued his career. The first movement’s dark double bass introduction set the stage for war. The solemnity in the upper strings added to the scenery, suggesting a battlefield. A lovely clarinet solo was like rays of sun breaking through a black sky. The second movement added a march-like feel to the symphony with heavy snare and percussion. The broad brass fanfares may suggest a certain sarcasm towards Stalin’s death, and lead into an almost celebratory march. A misterioso start to the third movement led into an iconic bassoon melody, such as seems common to almost every Shostakovich symphony. The final movement reverted to the obscure double bass melody from the first movement. The flute and clarinet duo once again rescued the orchestra from the depths of depression. The cellos’ pizzicatos suggested galloping; galloping towards freedom. The climactic finale with the strike of the gong also depicted a certain brightness and made for, dare I say, a heroic ending.

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