Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists.  The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox.  On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists.  Eight singers and four pianists were on show.  The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers.  The pianists were all new to me.

Art Song reGENERATION July 15

First up was Montreal soprano Megan Miceli with Amy Seulky Lee at the piano.  She started with Schubert’s Rastlose Liebe which, typically, requires considerable agility.  Her interpretation had me wondering whether here was a more dramatic voice in the making but there’s nothing in her bio to suggest so.  Greer’s My Mother’s Hands followed and I was pretty convinced that, in fact, we had a lyric with some control issues in the upper register (not at all uncommon in younger singers).  She was very expressive and had good diction though and concluded with a very nicely phrased account of Strauss’ Ständchen.  Lee was a skilled and sympathetic partner especially in the rather invoved Greer piano part.

Next up was another soprano, Bahareh Poureslami with Jack Olszewski with a set of chansons by Chausson, Debussy and Poulenc.  She has a good voice.  She has good control, a range of colours and a clean, powerful upper register.  She handled the tricky vocalise in Debussy’s La Romance d’Ariel with considerable skill.  I was glad of the surtitles though (yes, surtitles!  Well done TSMF) as her diction is a bit woolly.  I find it almost impossible to comment on the piano playing on these pieces.  It always seems to fade into the background.

Joel Allison is a known quantity.  One of the best things at UoT recently he is a powerful bass-baritone with considerable expressive powers which were well brought out in an eye bulging account of Loewe’s Odins Meeresritt and a fine account of Morawetz’ Elegy.  I still think he turns the gas up to 11 a bit too often but besides the power he does seem to be learning that he can be more effective by throttling back more of the time.  This aspect was well illustrated by a very idiomatic account of The Poison Tree from Britten’s Blake songs.  His accompanist was Chelsea Whittaker and she impressed, especially in the tricky Britten.  I’d really like to hear more of the pair of them in that rep.

Chelsea stayed on to accompany mezzo Evanna Lai in Robert Fleming’s The Confession Stone; the one point in the afternoon where we got a cycle rather than three unconnected songs.  This was very impressive.  It’s not the most technically demanding piece for a singer but it’s very tricky and emotional text that requires interpretive skill.  That was there in full, coupled with excellent diction.  Lai has a naturally quite bright mezzo but there are colours at her command and he used them to effect.  There’s power enough there too.  Overall this was pretty impressive.

After the break it was soprano Sinéad White with Amy Seulky Lee in a set of Messiaen songs.  White sang clearly and expressively with a good command of the French text.  The voice is bright and has nice top notes but is maybe a bit light.  It suited this rep though.  Excellent work by lee on the very Messiaen piano parts!

Mezzo Victoria Marshall is another known quantity, joined here by Jared Tehse in an interesting mix of Delius, Somers and Tchaikovsky.  Victoria has a naturally rather dark, covered timbre that suited the music, especially perhaps the Tchaikovsky but it was the Somers’ piece, Look Down Fair Moon, that really stood out.  It’s dark and spare with a complex piano part.  Super work by both musicians.

Adam Harris was up next with Tehse also.  It was quite a contrast with Allison.  Adam is very much a lyric baritone and he seems to be able to shed his opera voice when singing song for something lighter and more idiomatic.  He astarted off with a nicely tripping account of Schubert’s  before producing a very fine account of Finzi’s I Need Not Go, to words by Thomas Hardy.  He finished up with the tango infused Milonga Calabacera by Williams, which was a fine way of showing off his considerable comedic talents.

Last up was soprano Sydney Baedke accompanied by Jack Olszewski in an all Russian set.  I very much enjoyed the final number; Rachmaninoff’s Krysolov.  It was a very expressive and playful performance showing lots of personality and showcasing Baedke’s rather “slicey” soprano.  It all gave Olszewski more of a chance to show what he could do, as one might expect from Rachmaninoff.

All in all it was a very high standard concert with some impressive young singers and pianists on show.  There’s another chance to see them (actually not sure exactly who “they” are) next Saturday at 1pm in Walter Hall (free but tickets required).

Did I mention surtitles?  Yes I did.  They are so much better for art song than printed handouts, especially for pieces in a language one really doesn’t have.  The number of times I’ve tried to figure out where the %^&* the singer is in a Russian song using just a printed translation are legion!

Photo credit: Gord Fulton

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