Review: Lighthearted concert by NACO offered music anything but lightweight

Harriet Krijgh. Photo: Marco Borggreve

After several weeks of thick, T-bone steak and potatoes repertoire, Thursday’s NACO program served up a sleek, trim menu of Mozart and Haydn. But if the program’s length and girth were slimmer, the music-making was anything but lightweight.

The evening opened with Alfred Schnittke’s marvellous 1977 parody, Moz-Art à la Haydn. Schnittke is known for his bleak style, but he could have a puckish sense of humour. Moz-Art à la Haydn blends pastiche of 18th-century idioms with late 20th-century atonality and a large dose of theatre. The piece opens in complete house darkness, and ends with a reference to Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, with the musicians departing one by one.

NACO Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds led a small chamber string ensemble from the first solo violin spot, with NACO Concertmaster Yosuke Kawasaki joining him as the second soloist. Both performed their furiously duelling parts with technical brio while delivering on the work’s choreography and visual gags.

Borrowing Kawasaki’s chair, Storgårds conducted from the fiddle again in Haydn’s Cello Concerto. The soloist was the 27-year-old Dutch cellist Harriet Krijgh, already a mainstay in Europe but only recently introduced to North American audiences.

Krijgh wore an unapologetically girly gown covered in fluffy pink cherry blossoms, and her playing was just as romantic, airy and graceful. She likes to rock exuberantly side to side even when she is just listening to the orchestra, and plays with a delighted facial expression, like she’s just opened the best present ever.  

The first movement was confidently articulated in the proper galant style, enlivened by delicate, almost flirtatious ornamentation. Krijgh’s satiny, cinnamon tone and deeply lyrical phrasing were showcased in the gentle Adagio. The Finale, with its Mannheim Rocket flourishes, was taken at breakneck speed. Krijgh’s technical virtuosity was unquestionable, but I would have liked to hear more elasticity and breath in those scampering scales.

Storgårds took to the podium at last for Mozart’s 39th Symphony, and made it sound downright Schubertian in its dynamic range and emotional intensity. The first movement had a thrilling frisson of excitement–Storgårds knows how to carve out all the tasty sharp angles as well as the smooth curves. The Andante and Menuetto had bold shapes and sailing movement; the woodwind ensemble played exceptionally well, particularly clarinettists Kimball Sykes and Sean Rice in the Trio. The turbo-charged, unflagging Finale showed how skilled Storgårds is at keeping the orchestra relaxed and spontaneous while pushing them so hard.

The concert repeats Friday at 7 p.m.

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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.