Concert Review – Great Songs of Italy with tenor Richard Margison and the Ontario Philharmonic

Marco Parisotto_conducting Richard MargisonI had heard through friends that the Oshawa-based Ontario Philharmonic was not your average community orchestra, and that turned out to be correct. In fact, OP is a crackerjack professional orchestra. The guest concertmaster was none other than the excellent Marie Bérard who is concertmaster of the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra. It’s hard to imagine Bérard affiliating her brand with a no-name outfit. In reality, OP is festooned with musicians from the COC and National Ballet Orchestras. Apparently, even TSO folk sit in from time to time, so, we’re not talking chopped liver here.

The occasion was a periodic foray into the Big Smoke by the philharmonic. Last season, OP began a series of concerts called Great Soloists, which are performed in both Oshawa and Toronto – the soloists, presumably, being of sufficient fame to entice Toronto audiences to a virtually unknown ensemble. The soloist this time around was the esteemed Canadian tenor Richard Margison performing Great Songs of Italy. The fact that OP holds these Great Soloists concerts in the aurally and visually beautiful Koerner Hall is no hardship, and certainly adds to the drawing power.

It seems that OP music director Marco Parisotto is responsible for the transformation of the Oshawa Symphony with its merry band of enthusiastic community players, to the hard core professional Ontario Philharmonic. Parisotto is another of a long line of talented conductors coming out of Quebec. (It has to be something in that province’s drinking water.) He joined the Oshawa Symphony in 1996, with the Ontario Philharmonic officially coming into being in 2008.

Needless to say, Great Songs of Italy, a compendium of Neapolitan songs and opera arias was pure schlock, or “ear candy” as Maestro Parisotto called it. Margison, however, was in fine form. It always amazes me how sweet his voice remains despite its robust, hearty sound. He is, after all, a meat and potato tenor (read Verdi and Puccini). There is no shrillness at all and just the barest trace of a quaver. He also took great chances with his voice, for example, pulling back for sotto voce and falsetto to create more colour. He is, in recital, an expressive singer. His Recitar…Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci was heart-breaking. Margison also went for every money note and made every one. There is one amusing incident to report. He announced that after over 25 years in the business, it was his first time singing O sole mio in public. Margison brought down the house with his exaggerated melisma on the repeat of the chorus.

As for Maestro Parisotto, he is a very sympathetic conductor to singers, taking care not to crowd Margison. It was also clear that he is a detail man who works on the drama within the music, even with kitsch material. There were several orchestral interludes of mostly light fare including, I kid you not, Dance of the Hours from La Giaconda, which certainly brought snickers from the audience. For his part, Parisotto treated each selection, no matter how insubstantial, with maximum respect.

To show what his outfit could do, Parisotto did program a serious piece of orchestral music. Although the playing of Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien was a little too compartmentalized and halting for me (I would have preferred more continuity between the sections), Parisotto’s reading of the piece was downright exciting and theatrical. He pulled out all the stops.

The Ontario Philharmonic is well worth keeping an eye on.

Great Songs Of Italy, tenor Richard Margison with the Ontario Philharmonic, Marco Parisotto, conductor

Koerner Hall, Dec. 10, 2013