Review: Sir Andrew Davis Conducts Massenet’s “Thaïs” with Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Chandos
An Emotionally Charged Recording With Much To Delight
By Alan Neilson
Massenet’s opera “Thaïs,” set in 4th century Alexandria, focuses on two individuals with diametrically opposed outlooks and lifestyles. There is the hedonistic courtesan Thaïs, who seeks only love—although for no longer than a week at a time—and there is a cenobite monk named Athanaël, an ascetic, whose aim is to turn the courtesan to the path of righteousness. While he does ultimately succeed in this task, he is ensnared by Thaïs’ beauty, betrays his faith, and succumbs to the passions of the flesh.
The real star of the performance, however, must be Sir Andrew Davis and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra who have created a reading which is not only dramatically nuanced but also brings out the exquisite beauty of the score. The score’s textures are fully explored, and the interplay between the sound of the full orchestra and the almost chamber-like and solo sections are wonderfully contrasted. Davis judges the pace to almost to perfection, applying the necessary dynamic emphases with a keen eye to the dramatic effect.