Off Centre Music Salon’s opening concert of the season featured a largely Russian, largely 19th century program. There were plenty of songs by Glinka, Tchaikovsky and the like sung by an interestingly contrasted mix of Ilana Zarankin, Joni Henson and Ryan Harper with Inna Perkis and Boris Zarankin accompanying. It was good to hear Joni in this program in the warm acoustic of Trinity St. Paul’s. I think I’ve mostly heard her in the RBA which is notoriously hard on dramatic sopranos. Here the combination of the acoustic and Russian vowel sounds resulted in a very pleasing richness of tone rather than stridency. She also blended well with Harper’s very tenorish tenor and made an interesting contrast with the much lighter, brighter Zarankin. Nice work all round.
My main reason for going was to hear Valery Gavrilin’s Vremena Goda; a song cycle apparently inspired by the folk lore and chanting traditions of Northern Russia. I was disappointed. Although written in 1969 (the same year as Shostakovitch’s 14th Symphony) it could easily have been written a hundred years earlier and really served only to demonstrate how retrograde and conservative most late Soviet era official music was.
The most interesting, and least typical piece on the program was a teaser for the off shoot Derangé series. In this case Ilana Zarankin performing a five voice Gesualdo madrigal using live looping pedal. Fascinating to hear the work “build”, voice by voice, through the five iterations. Also fascinating to see the rather varied reactions of the rather conservative Off Centre audience. Zarankin also sang Prokofiev’s Gadkij utjonok (The Ugly Duckling) accompanied by Inna Perkis. It made a pleasing change of tone. More restrained than the high romantic stuff, it’s an interesting exercise in story telling through song realised with subtlety by Zarankin.
The bookends to the program were an Albéniz piano piece competently played by guest young artist 12 year old Ruben Ohanian and a piano trio by Anton Arensky. Arensky was apparently a teacher at the conservatory, a drunk and a gambler. In this trio the academic was the one in evidence. It was very competent, very proper, very well played but all too civilized and a bit dull despite the best efforts of Boris Zarankin, Igor Geller and Mark Skazinetsky.
I like the way the Off Centre series explores some of the byways of the repertoire but, unsurprisingly, the results can be a bit uneven.