MRDe-music Review: Why Do I Even Bother When So Many Great Minds Already Review Concerts?
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Jeremy Denk, piano

Wednesday April 29, 2009 8pm
Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto

Bach: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor
(encore) Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, mmt. iii "The Alcotts"
Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

Who needs to write a concert review at all when the Toronto Star does sterling service to music journalism and tells you all you need to know?

I hear you all asking, with the loud sound of more than -1 but less than 5 voices, many questions like ... were you being sarcastic? Do you think the Star's niggardly 3 out of 4 rating was unfair? Why exactly was the Bach concerto not mentioned in the Star review (a performance that made even one as indifferent to Bach as I am enjoy the piece)? And why, why, why, was pianist Jeremy Denk's fine encore, a great performance (and from the sheer I'm surprised that he chose to play this as an encore point of view the highlight of the evening) of the Alcotts movement from Ives' Concord Sonata not mentioned?

I have some grave reservations about this flawed piece of music reportage. Not only did it ignore the first half of the show, it contains an assertion that make my hackles rise.

"A century of increased harmonic expressiveness, at the cost of increased dissonance, pushed the boundaries of the symphony to the breaking point. By a generation later, after Bruckner and Gustav Mahler had gone, the form exploded and died."

No. No it didn't. The form didn't die then and it hasn't died yet, nor did it explode.

There have been many different composers taking many different approaches to the symphony since Bruckner and Mahler wrote their last finales (well, not really ... both of them died before their last symphonic finales, but enough of that poor taste thinking). We've heard a few of these radically different symphonies played by the TSO over the last little while (Shostakovich .. Prokofief ... those are the ones that come to mind quickly, and since I'm lazy all you ever get is what comes to me quickly, dear reader), with more to come (Sibelius is only a season away) but many many others have not been heard in the halls of Roy Thomson.

What boundaries were broken? I wonder. Why does one boundary breaker invalidate people returning to the form as it was practiced traditionally, or revisiting it anew? What is the form? The form wasn't written in stone, for example, when Haydn practiced it, nor did Beethoven stick to some ossified prototype version of the symphony. Bruckner, one could argue, perhaps kept writing the same symphony over and over, but that old chestnut of an assertion is wrong in my eyes, as there is much variety in his materials and his handling of the form from piece to piece. Mahler ... he sure wasn't content to explode the form and then give up on it - formally each of his symphonies was a different creation. Even around the time of Mahler's symphonies Sibelius was taking a different route in his 7 symphonies. Then followed the remainder of the 20th century in which there were numerous takes on the form: retrogressive, progressive, middle of the road, absolute lunatic and lacking in craft, from short and concise to long and sprawling ... hardly a sign of death or explosion.

When a review says something that boneheadedly historically inaccurate (and not even interestingly or imaginatively inaccurate), and ignores a substantial part of the concert, there's no real point in taking the rest of it seriously.

Lucky for anyone at the TSO performance, the TSO took Bruckner seriously, both they and Denk took Bach seriously, and Denk took Ives seriously.

I'm glad I heard this show ... and 3 out of 4? We should give it all at least 69 out of 91. More than that really, but numbers confuse and frighten me.

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