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SCRUTINY | Krzysztof Urbański Draws Uncommon Grace From Common Repertoire

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Guest conductor Krzysztof Urbanski with the TSO (Photo: Jag Photography)
Guest conductor Krzysztof Urbanski with the TSO (Photo: Jag Photography)

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra with Yuja Wang (piano) and Krzysztof Urbański (guest conductor) at Roy Thomson Hall. Thursday, Oct. 13.

The moment I see a program with the Peer Gynt Suite or The New World Symphony, I get a little worried. But for a Thursday night, Yuja Wang and Krzysztof Urbański on the same bill was just too intriguing to pass up.

Where do I start. Krzysztof Urbański, whom I’m betting the house should be the next conductor of the TSO after Peter Oundjian retires in two years, trotted out and stood in front of the Toronto Symphony like he was about to set them on fire. This was not going to be your regular, run of the mill Grieg, Bartók, and Dvořák.

“He’s dancing,” I overheard someone whisper during the”Death of Aase” movement of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. Exactly. Urbański has a compelling style that is both unique and bewitching. His grace cast the focus on the moment rather than the direction. While the silence-haunted strings drop low in the bass, then ascend, he did not fall into the trap of being shamelessly lush and over the top. His intent was the focus on the venerable confessions of the silence which ended one minute at a time. It was one of the most tender performances I’ve ever heard from the TSO.

Yuja Wang and Krzysztof Urbanski with the TSO (Photo: Jag Photography)
Yuja Wang and Krzysztof Urbanski with the TSO (Photo: Jag Photography)

Leaving the audience gazing at their shoes, Urbański returned with Yuja Wang for Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The piece has more twists and turns than a corn maze, but Wang seemed uncharacteristically careful for the wild, spitfire virtuoso. Her fingers were all working as they should, but there was a sense she was holding back for something. By the second movement Adagio, particularly the long chordal section, it became clear this was the place she was waiting for. The mood turned dark, and Wang relished in the sequence of chords, whose simplicity provided a much-needed contrast to the busier material. Urbański did a fine job of keeping the orchestra from stepping on her toes, until, as is customary in a concerto, it called for it.

Wang’s visit concluded with a Frankenstein arrangement of Mozart Turkish March that the audience rewarded with cheers.

Evoking the all the wonder of the Big Apple, the TSO and Urbański sealed the evening with Dvořák’s outrageously popular New World Symphony. The TSO again responded well to Urbański’s fictive flair. The brass and winds were layered beautifully against the strings and hung in the air like a like a French perfume. Only a few staggered entrances reminded me this wasn’t a perfect performance.

The program repeats Saturday, October 15, 2016 – 8:00 p.m. Tickets and details found, here.

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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Editor at Musical Toronto
Michael Vincent has worked as a senior editor for La Scena Musicale and web editor for Norman Lebrecht. On January 21, 2014, he went to lunch and left as the publisher of Musical Toronto. Later that year he found himself as a freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star, the former employer of his favourite author Ernest Hemingway. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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