Former Toronto Symphony Orchestra Music Director Jukka-Pekka Saraste serves a bowl of mashed peas

Former Music Director Jukka-Pekka Saraste joins the Toronto Symphony Orchestra this week.

You know the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has come a long way in the past decade, when a competent concert is far from enough.

This sentiment became amply clear in the company of former musical director, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, on Thursday night at Roy Thomson Hall.

The conductor, orchestra and special guest Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto all did a respectable job. But they needed to shine rather than just agree, if they were to live up to the standard set by the orchestra in their concerts these days.

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Part of the problem can be attributed to three long works on the atmosphere but, without a strong vision of the baton, having too much potential to lack dramatic flair.

The first piece, the 1926 symphonic poem by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius Tapiola, is an icy walk in dark and threatening woods. He has no greater goal than to paint interesting colors with different sections of the orchestra.

Saraste led a performance that had no desire to follow or find an obvious destination, and which repeatedly neglected the violins in favor of deeper sections of the ensemble.

In the final piece, the familiar, in four movements Symphony No.3 composed in 1883 by Johannes Brahms, Saraste was more concerned with bringing out small details than giving the work a larger form or a sense of momentum.

The result was pretty, but rarely striking; competent, but certainly not gripping.

Pekka kuusisto

Kuusisto, the solo violin of the evening, is a tried and true firecracker whose fuse was a bit soggy Thursday night because he needed the help of a sheet music to get through Sergei Prokofiev’s WWI era. Violin Concerto No.1.

Although the piece contains many technical obstacles, they are covered with light musical forms that favor lyricism over fire.

Kuusisto’s playing, although finely nuanced and perfect, rarely goes beyond the printed score. The soloist’s personality was on hold as Saraste kept the orchestra on low for much of the three-movement work.

The result was a tasty bowl of peas, rather than anything dramatic or memorable.

It was a concert that used top talent but achieved intermediate results.

There’s nothing wrong with being mediocre, but in a city filled with exquisite musical options every night of the week – and with a catalog of electrifying performances already behind it this season – the Toronto Symphony can do better than that. .

The program repeats Saturday night at Roy Thomson Hall. Details here.

Jean Terauds

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