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Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Tania Miller, conductor

Katherine Chi, piano

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At Roy Thomson Hall

in Toronto on Saturday

The first concert in this season's "light classics" series by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra was so stunning in its first half that its second half, perhaps by definition lighter and probably quite okay, seemed rather dull by comparison.

The concert opened with the perfect and scintillating but far from foolproof overture to Bedrich Smetana's opera The Bartered Bride. In this, the young U.S. conductor Tania Miller, musical director of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra who was making her debut with the TSO, briskly proved she is certainly no fool.

A neat, lithe, self-possessed yet unaffected figure on the podium, thoroughly prepared, with a crisp stick technique and a vivacious sense of Smetana's lucid and dis-arming score, she established at once a high level of legerdemain. The orchestra responded beautifully, after a queasy moment in the breakneck opening when the cellos pulled microscopically ahead of the violins.

After the Smetana, we had a memorable performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, with the young Calgary-born pianist Katherine Chi as soloist.

My resistance to all the Prokofiev concertos is considerable, possibly chemical, but it melted away in the face of this riveting account of the Third. Chi's playing was at once so lambently musical, so fiercely, analytically intelligent, and so intuitively kinetic in its rhythmic sweep (attributes too often mutually exclusive among interpretations of this music) that on this occasion Prokofiev leaped to life instead of falling numbly beneath the far more customary stretches of ennui punctuated by violent episodes of hammer and tongs.

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Chi made sense and beauty of the lyricism, point and strength of the big sonorities, and musical continuity of the whole. Some of the subtleties of her shaping of the first movement were overborne by the orchestra, but as the performance proceeded a finer accord was reached, and from beginning to end conductor Miller presided over a secure rhythmic co-ordination between soloist and orchestra.

The upshot was not just the most sensational but, better, the most unfailingly cogent and compelling Prokofiev's Third I have heard in years.

By comparison, after intermission, George Enescu's colourful but shopworn First Romanian Rhapsody and Zoltan Kodaly's curiously uneven Hary Janos Suite (its best numbers also by now a bit threadbare from frequent handling) paled despite conductor Miller's estimable efforts.

Some elegantly turned solo bits by orchestra principals, including violist Susan Lipchak, flutist Nora Shulman, oboist Keith Atkinson, bass-clarinetist David Bourque and pianist Patricia Krueger, added interest to déjà vu and had gracious acknowledgment from Miller during the applause. Miller is not only an appealing conductor. She is also a magnanimous colleague.

CORRECTION

Tania Miller, musical director of the Victoria Symphony, was born in Saskatchewan. Incorrect information appeared in the Review section on Dec. 1.

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