At lunchtime today, in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Jacqueline Woodley gave her final recital as a member of the COC Studio Ensemble. In the two years she has been in the programme Jacqueline has given me maybe more pleasure than any other Ensemble Studio singer (stop sniggering at the back). What’s become clear in that time is that she’s an exceptional talent when it comes to interpreting difficult modern and contemporary music. Realistically I doubt we’ll see her sing Verdi at La Scala but few people who do that could do what Jacquie does with works by composers like Golijov, Saariaho and Sokolovic. Perhaps no surprise then that she chose a recital programme that was 100% art song.
The programme was an interesting mix of very new, newish and not so new. She started off with a Britten song cycle that I didn’t know at all; On This Island, a setting of five poems by Auden and, it turns out, Britten’s first published piece for voice and piano. The poems are quite varied in style and so is the music. It has a bit of a feel of Britten still trying to find the right balance between an independent piano part and a supportive piano part so at times there’s an uncomfortable opposition. Jacqueline and her pianist, Rachel Andrist, navigated those shoals remarkably well. It was a pleasing performance; enough power, excellent diction and good vocal acting without unseemly histrionics. Art song the way it’s supposed to be.
Next up was a set of songs by Strauss, Debussy and Rimsky-Korsakov topped off with Britten’s arrangement of ‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer. There was some lovely controlled quiet singing in the Rimsky-Korsakov, an interesting piece with oriental overtones. ‘Tis the Last Rose of Summer was very prettily sung too, if perhaps a bit on the slow side which emphasises a sentimentality that can cope quite well without help!
Next up was Ana Sokolovic’s Tanzer Lieder. This is a very naughty song cycle based on texts in French, German and English by Francisco Tanzer. Sokolovic parodies the art song style of each country when its language comes up in a quite hilarious way. Stimmen, for instance, is like a brilliant pastiche of Schoenberg while the English language Wishing Well has all the elements that make German critics look quizzically (no doubt through their monocles) at everything American. The French piece was less obviously pastiche but then French music is pretty much a pastiche of itself anyway. For the performer the challenge in a piece like this is to convey this playfulness while navigating the usual singer torturing techniques of contemporary music. Needless to say Jacquie managed this with aplomb and I was giggling only slightly more quietly than the bloody cellphone that kept going off. Brilliant stuff (from Rachel too)!
Jacqueline closed out with a lovely version of The Lark Ascending and then got dragged back for an encore of Ae Fond Kiss. If there was a dry eye in the house it wasn’t anywhere near me.
Next year, I’m told, Jacqueline will be spending more time in Montreal but won’t be abandoning Toronto entirely so there should be plenty of chances to see her in both cities. One can but hope.