How wonderfully coincidental to have interviewed Toronto Summer Music Festival Artistic Director-designate (cross-reference below) and the very next day hear him put his artistic philosophy into practice.
Indeed, the choice of repertoire for “Jonathan Crow and Co.”, ranging from very young Mozart to Frank Bridge (with helpings from Elgar and Arnold Bax along the route) at the height of his powers, provided the large audience the chance to experience just how music has evolved without need of a lecture from the stage. Merci mille fois!
Leading off (having been written by the eight-year-old wunderkind while concertizing in London, making the requisite link to this summer’s theme: “London Calling: Music in Great Britain”), Mozart’s Violin Sonata No. 10 in B-flat Major readily set the table for great work to come.
The Andante maestoso was served up by Crow and pianist Angela Park with delightful energy and boyish enthusiasm that put smiles on faces young and old.
The ever-so-brief Allegro grazioso gave new meaning to “brevity is the soul of wit,” alongside an irresistible feeling of happiness and joy.
Many stylistic miles and more than a century and a half away was Elgar’s Violin Sonata in E Minor. The opening Allegro confiscated Mozart’s “heat” and immediately expanded that into a thrust and parry which truly felt evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
Even as Crow devoured the score and all of its nuances, Park matched and supported him every step of the way. The Romance was filled with thoughtful, poetic statements that captured the attention and imaginations of one and all for the obvious love imbued in Elgar’s lines and fascinating colours. The concluding Allegro non troppo ideally lived up to its meaning: “What’s the hurry?” [non troppo], yielding so much to savour—even if, at times a tad impish (Mozart would have approved). Crow’s changes of register and oh-so-tasteful portamenti were a marvel of skill and control as were Park’s liquid legato and exquisite touch.
By journey’s end, the crowd cheered their appreciation while not a few of us wished for more from this first-rate duo.
After the break—the recital over—the chamber music began.
In line with Crow’s wants, Bax’s seldom-heard Piano Quartet in One Movement instantly changed/charged the atmosphere with its angular, metallic, militaristic hues fed by nervous dotted rhythms and searing unisons.
A welcome calmo was soon followed by eerie moments of mystery. Each of the strings took their declamatory turns before a refreshing moment of consonance gave quiet hope. Violist Eric Nowlin boldly took stage with melodic verve before seamlessly handing off to Crow’s dulcet tone.
A recurrence of the military atmosphere—with a touch of Mahler lurking in the orchestration weeds—added much to the building tension, somewhat assuaged by Park’s seemingly effortless, cascading accompaniments.
A web of tremolos finally gave way to a unity of bow attacks before the ongoing struggle between the musical combatants moved steadily forward towards resolution. Bound with cohesion, the ensemble was finally of one mind, artfully completing Bax’s magnificent excursion from angst to solace.
The concert closed with Frank Bridge’s much-revised (1905/1912) Piano Quintet (violinist Bénédicte Lauzière adding her considerable skills to the mix). From the quiet opening of the Adagio, through to the optimistic, fiery resolution of the Allegro energico, the hall was filled with the sense of “all for one” along with a compelling expression of “entre amis.” Park found just the right tone and texture whether “relaxo” for the contrasting subject of the Allegro moderato, or rekindling the fire as her colleagues—moments later—combined for a reluctant adieu.
Lauzière’s solo turn in the second movement was bliss itself, while the Allegro con brio’s pace produced the only untidiness of attack and ensemble over the 30-minute span. Cellist Roberta Janzen positively soared to the heavens after the transition back to the Adagio, leaving it to Crow, once again, to sing rather than merely play his eloquent closing statement.
The finale exuded confidence and strength even as the equal partners revelled in the interplay. The bohemian moments were as welcome for their contrast as they were superbly executed—notably the pizzicati.
How fortunate that the CBC was on hand to record the proceedings. This was an evolutionary evening that deserves as wide an audience as possible. JWR