On Bonus Prizes

Lise de la Salle.  In this photo she’s playing Chopin and not wearing her shiny top, but I think you get a sense of her expressive style.

As I eagerly ordered tickets for the next Toronto Symphony season Wednesday at midday (Shostakovich 10th!  Beethoven 7th!  Mozart Requiem!) I pondered the “extras.”  When I buy a concert ticket, it’s usually to hear one particular work on the program.  Most classical concerts (with the exception of particularly long works) feature two or three works, sometimes quite different, and so what you get beyond the reason you bought the ticket for is a roll of the dice.  When I saw the Beethoven ‘Emperor’ concerto performed last year, for instance, there were two other works–a short work by a contemporary composer (whose name I have forgotten at the moment) and a symphony by Charles Ives.  I found the former amazing (and now I’m going to have to find that composer’s name again), but the latter was…too late 19th century and too American, if that’s a thing.  Ives used American folk/popular songs extensively in the work, and I found it a little too kitschy.

On the other hand, sometimes you get a performance you probably would have purchased a ticket for independently.  That was the case on Sunday with Schumann’s Piano Concerto, on the program with the Shostakovich 8th.  This is a rediscovered favourite of mine–it has a sparkle and a brio that makes it a worthy successor to the Beethoven piano concertos.  But simply seeing a piece you like–especially when it comes to solo performances–is no guarantee that you will come away exhilarated.  That was certainly the case in that ‘Emperor’ concerto performance I mentioned, where the soloist (who I won’t name) played the beautiful second movement almost mechanically–certainly too fast for my tastes–and I was a little disappointed.  When it’s a piece you adore, you want to come away full of joy, or tears, or whatever it is that you love in the music.  You don’t want your reaction to be….meh.

Saturday’s soloist, French pianist Lise de la Salle, brought me to my feet cheering.  There was nothing meh about her. She’s quite young (just 30) and was a bit of a prodigy, starting her formal conservatory studies at just 11.  The program noted that she’s recorded just about everything Schumann wrote for piano (and as a former pianist married to a pianist, that was a lot) and sees the Piano Concerto as the “quintessence of Romanticism.”  That sort of familiarity boded well. For this work, she did not merely sit at the piano–she almost danced, her body language and facial expressions echoing the expressiveness of her playing, which sparkled as much or more than her sparkling gold halter top and matching gold heels.  Whether the passage was slow and contemplative or fast and passionate, she beautifully conveyed the mood.  She also had an excellent rapport with the conductor–some soloists seem to play on top of the orchestra, rather than with them, and this was not the case with her.  Her encore piece was by Bach–more restrained, but expressive in its own way.  I will certainly keep an eye out for her in the future, and perhaps see if she’s recorded the Schumann Piano Concerto–I think it would be worth having in my collection.

We shall see if the positive trend for the “bonus pieces” continues.  I’ll get to hear the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra on the same program with the Shostakovich Cello Concerto #2, a Mozart piano concerto and an Elgar serenade with the Beethoven 5th, and in perhaps the most interesting mix, a Mozart harp and flute concerto with the Shostakovich 5th.  I also will get Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on the same program as the Shostakovich 2nd Piano Concerto and works by Tchaikovsky and Pärt (a composer I’m starting to discover) with the Shostakovich 1st Piano Concerto.  Those last two concerts are just two days apart in late April.  And next year, the ‘bonuses’ will include a Beethoven piano concerto, a Prokofiev violin concerto, a Mozart symphony, and a Beethoven symphony.  Can’t exactly go wrong with those!