Soprano Bayrakdarian soars with passion, panache

The Globe and Mail, Canada
April 2 2004

Soprano soars with passion, panache

TSO program features a miscellany of good things and ends with a zinger

Special to The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano
Sir Andrew Davis, conductor/pianist
At Roy Thomson Hall
In Toronto on Wednesday

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s concert Wednesday at Roy Thomson
Hall was very much a “this, that, these, them and those” affair,
musically verging on the miscellaneous, though full of good things,
including the services of the trimmed down and remodelled conductor
laureate Sir Andrew Davis and the superb, gorgeously gowned young
Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.

The “those” (of my opening conceit) were the Symphonies of Wind
Instruments by Igor Stravinsky, which began the concert and which
would have been another of the good things in another context. These
tiny, severely elegant pieces are not symphonies in the 19th-century,
symphonic-hall sense of the word. In them, Stravinsky returned to the
original meaning of the word symphony: “a sounding together of

To achieve the very particular “soundings-together” he had in mind,
he used only 21 wind instruments to create what he called “an austere
ritual . . . unfolded in terms of short litanies between different
groups of homogeneous instruments.”

In other words, a large but not very large chamber piece, almost by
definition out of place in Roy Thomson Hall, however neatly done by
Sir Andrew and the Toronto Symphony winds.

The “this” was Mozart’s Concert-Rondo in A, K. 386, a beguiling
little movement for piano solo, two oboes, two horns and strings,
which Mozart had left only partially orchestrated.

Sir Andrew had completed the orchestration, and in Wednesday’s
performance he both conducted and played the solo, the latter
stylishly if not impeccably. (He was fine in the lyric bits but he
fudged the pyrotechnics.) But the Rondo was nicely placed between the
“these,” a brace of arias from the young Mozart’s opera Il Re
pastore, K. 208, and the great concert aria with obbligato piano Non
temer amato bene, K.505, which the mature Mozart composed for himself
as pianist and the English soprano Nancy Storace (who had been his
Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro) to perform at her farewell Vienna

Isabel Bayrakdarian sang all three arias exquisitely, her radiant
soprano calmed for the first aria, brilliant for the second and
impassioned for the concert piece, with Sir Andrew graduating from
the Rondo to Mozart’s own role in the last, again playing very well
except in the fancy bits.

The “them” were two Rossini arias, the one Miss Bayrakdarian did sing
after intermission and the one she didn’t but might have sung as well
if the Stravinsky had been replaced by something more in keeping with
the rest of the occasion.

The one she sang, with stunning panache, was En proie à la tristesse
from Le Comte Ory. The contrasting one she didn’t sing, alas, might
have been the beautiful Willow Song from Rossini’s Otello (less
famous but more lovely even than Verdi’s), or possibly the melting
Sombre forêt from the same composer’s dramatic masterpiece Guillaume

But all musical errors and omissions were redeemed by the splendid
“that” which ended the program: Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, in a
zinger of a performance, with Sir Andrew and the orchestra at their
sonic and rhythmic best, which is saying quite a lot.