The Academy Program is an important part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival.  It allows selected young artists; singers, collaborative pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians, to work with experienced professionals in an intensive series of coachings, masterclasses etc culminating in a concert series.  This year the mentors for the vocal/collaborative piano component were pianist Craig Rutenberg, who has worked everywhere and with everybody, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; a last minute replacement for an indisposed Anne Schwannewilms.  I didn’t make it to any of the masterclasses, though word on the street is that they were exceptional, but I did make it to yesterday’s lunchtime concert in Walter Hall.


Eight singers and four pianists performed an eclectic mix of artsong that didn’t seem to owe much at all to the festival’s “London Calling” theme.  Soprano Adanya Dunn opened with a stylish and witty account of five Poulenc songs of highly contrasted moods.  She showed excellent diction and sense of style and the musicianship that has marked her out in the contemporary repertoire.  Nice work at the piano too from Helen Becqué.

Next up was Ellen McAteer, to be seen later in the day at the Winter Gardens.  She gave a very accomplished and rather intense account of three songs from Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben.  She also popped up later in the show with aptly fierce accounts of Ville and Royauté from Britten’s Les Illuminations.  The Britten was a bold choice brought off with skill and with equally accomplished work by Madeleine Christie at the piano.

Baritone Jeremy Hirsch puzzled me.  He sang two songs; one by Schubert and one by Fauré.    I found him mannered and overly operatic but maybe that’s a question of taste.  Stéphane Meyer at the piano was very much an actor in his own right here with a clearly distinct voice.

Asitha Tennekoon showed how much he has matured in the last couple of years with some very pretty and stylish Schumann.  He managed to a hoary old chestnut like Im wunderschönen Monat Mai sound quite fresh.  He also presented an excellent account of Duparc’s Phidylé.

Whitney Mather chose three insanely high Debussy pieces.  They were probably a good choice for her light, bright soprano.  It’s one of those voices that will have to find a niche outside the mainstream opera canon I think and being able to sing difficult, very high music is just the ticket for today’s soprano torturing composers.

Next up was mezzo Rose Naggar-Tremblay with two pieces by Brahms and Liszt (I’m not making this up).  This was a voice to make one sit up and take notice.  It’s a dark and resonant contraltoish timbre and very expressive but she showed in the Liszt that she has genuine unforced high notes too.  Definitely one to watch.

I’m really not sure how tenor Marcel d’Entremont has evaded my radar up until now as he’s a recent UoT graduate.  Anyway he’s the real deal; stylish and precise with some real power here demonstrated in Liszt’s Die Loreley and a very idiomatic account of Strauss’ Cäcilie.

Finally we got mezzo Simone McIntosh with a couple of the bolder rep choices; Berg’s Nacht and Bridge’s Love went a-riding.  She’s a brighter kind of mezzo than Naggar-Tremblay but stylish with quite a bit of power and good feel for the text.  Also Berg… thank you!

They did surtitles too.  I really think this is the way to go with song recitals.  So much better than printed translations.  OK, there were a few snafus, the main one being during Marcel’s set but his German was so clear I scarcely needed them there.  So, a bit of a mixed bag as one might expect but overall a really pretty high standard and a good way to spend a lunch hour.

Photo “credit”: My iPhone


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