Up and coming Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly was joined last night by veteran collaborative pianist Julius Drake for a program of chansons and lieder at Walter Hall. The 490 seat hall was almost full which is rather nice to see for a song recital in Toronto. The first half was devoted to chansons by Duparc, Ropartz and Ravel. I was struck by the restraint of Sly’s singing. It was conversational and not operatic at all but very expressive. I think that takes a lot of guts in a young singer. He let the words and music do the talking and didn’t exaggerate. This was perhaps best shown in the drinking song from the Don Quichotte songs of Ravel. He was very funny but sounded like a drunk, not somebody overacting the idea of a drunk.
The German half of the programme was even better. He seemed, perhaps paradoxically, more at home in German than French. First up was a really expressive, but again not overly operatic, reading of Wolf’s Three Michelangelo Lieder. This was followed by a set of five Schubert songs including a lovely, tender, version of Der Tod und das Mädschen. The encore was a heartfelt rendering of An die Musik. Mr Drake, at the piano, was,as expected, masterly.
So, what to make of Philippe Sly? There’s a first class emerging talent here I think. He has excellent technique. Not once did singing the notes seem to get in the way of singing the words. He comes over as confident but not brash as an actor with the voice (which is a bit of a surprise given some of the things I’ve heard on the grapevine). He has a true bass-baritone range. The low notes are there and sound powerful and dark but he can also produce floaty top notes. The only thing I missed was an ability to really crank up the power but that will surely come as the voice matures. Definitely one to watch. His new haircut is also a definite improvement!