There Toronto Summer Music Festival, inevitably Americas themed this year, opened with a concert called Americans in Paris featuring music by Copland, Gershwin and Bolcom. It was a pretty mixed bag. It opened with Copland’s Appalachian Spring played by 13 members of the TSMF Ensemble and conducted by Tania Miller. It’s not a work I’m particularly fond of but here it was particularly unfocussed and soporific.
Next up was Measha Brueggergosman and Steven Philcox with songs by all three composers. This was my main reason to be there and I wasn’t thrilled. Steven was great throughout, particularly in the Copland setting of Emily Dickinson’s Nature but I’m just not sure I get the Brueggergosman brouhaha. It’s a pleasant enough light, bright soprano with a bit of a fluttery top end but miles away from the sort of smoky sound that many African American sopranos produce in jazz/blues influenced music. Why she should be thought a “natural” for Porgy and Bess or A Child of Our Time is musically beyond me. Kind of like casting Larry Brownlee in Verdi’s Otello because, you know… I did like her witty take on the Bolcom cabaret songs though, even if the words weren’t what one might call distinctly audible.
After the interval we got Copland’s clarinet concerto with a bravura performance by soloist Yao Guang Zhai. His solos were impressive but, honestly, the rest could have been bottled and sold as a tranquillizer. The highlight of the evening was the last piece. It was that old chestnut Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but given here in the 1926 arrangement for theatre orchestra. This had a raw energy that might not be to everyone’s taste but I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially after what had come before. Top marks too to pianist John Novacek who looked and sounded like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon. One half expected him to have to keep catching the keyboard and putting it back in place.
A bit of a curate’s egg really.
O yeah. I got introduced to the very down to earth and undivaish Soile Isokoski. I wasn’t planning to go to the masterclass she was giving this morning but I did.