REVIEW | 07.23.09 | Toronto Star
Serious music usually takes a summertime break in Toronto. But that didn’t stop an upstart downtown festival from giving us one of the finest concerts of the year Tuesday night.
It took 15 years for two Canadian stars – pianist Jon Kimura Parker and violinist James Ehnes – to co-ordinate their performing schedules. Given the spectacular results at the Carlu (the once-legendary Eaton Auditorium), one can only hope that this was the beginning of a long and frequent collaboration.
The duo opened the fourth annual Toronto Summer Music Academy & Festival, which runs to Aug. 13.
Organizers could not have picked a finer way to showcase the quality of musician that artistic director Agnes Grossman has attracted.
The venue itself was a fine place to start. The Art Deco Carlu is an aesthetic and acoustic gem. Now run as a venue for private functions, it could and should be a North American destination concert venue, as it was in the days when it sat atop a flagship department store at College Park.
As for the concert, it was hard to imagine hearing a finer violin-and-piano duo than Ehnes and Parker.
The program mixed light and heavy, gently moving us from pleasant relaxation to serious music, then back again. With the exception of a 1778 Sonata by Mozart (in G Major, K. 301), the program focused on music of the last 100 years.
Rarely heard is the haunted Sonata No. 1 by Sergei Prokofiev, which dates from the end of World War II. Ehnes and Parker shaded the long, four-movement piece with a remarkable expressive range. They made the complex, difficult score sound and look effortless.
They did the same for Maurice Ravel’s 1927 Sonata for Violin and Piano, which is really three very different pieces of music with one title.
The middle section, “Blues,” straight out of Tin Pan Alley, was given a particularly elegant buildup. Ehnes showed off his lightning bow and fingers in the closing “Perpetuum Mobile.”
A palette-cleansing treat was Air, by American composer Aaron Jay Kernis. It is a piece of dreamy introspection that could be a current-day counterpart to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ perennially popular Lark Ascending.
The gorgeous playing and stimulating program were a hopeful sign that the rest of the festival will be equally inspirational.
There are chamber music concerts by some of the world’s finest musicians, as well as advanced students, Tuesdays through Saturdays (details at torontosummermusic.com).
Parker and Ehnes repeat their stunning program at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival on Saturday