Last night, at Walter Hall, Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski and pianist Martin Katz gave a recital as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. The programme of Schumann, Wolf, Strauss and Sibelius was an object lesson in restraint and elegance. There were no histrionics or gimmicks, just very fine, subtly expressive singing and brilliantly supportive pianism.
The evening kicked off wit Schumann’s Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart. It was a good intro to the rest of the evening. Isokoski’s phrasing and ability to spin a line is absolutely top notch and there is a purity of tone which suggests a voice well looked after during a long and distinguished career. There was emotion in, for example, the final Gebet but it never soilled over. What we heard was a rather wonderful combination of the interpretive powers of an experienced lieder singer matched to a voice sounding remarkably fresh and youthful.
A varied selection from Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch followed. These were more varied in mood than the rather sombre Schumann and allowed the singer to have some fun in numbers like Mein Liebste ist so klein where she ever so subtly alluded to her diminutive pianist who was clearly having lots of fun with the virtuoso piano part. Despite the change of mood, the same crystalline purity of tone and elegant phrasing was very much in evidence.
It’s hard to imagine an Isokoski recital without Strauss and we didn’t have to. The second half of the concert consisted of three of the Lieder der Ophelia. These are very free renderings of sections from Hamlet into German by Karl Joseph Simrock and while the printed programme had the original Shakespeare, the surtitles (yes there were surtitles. Bravo Mr. Katz!) gave a literal lione by line translation. It felt a bit odd but it didn’t detract from another fine set. There was some really spectacular work from Mr. Katz in Guten Morgen, ‘s ist Sankt Valentinstag and some really impressive high singing in Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre bloß. Even at the upper end of the voice it’s still completely pure and clean.
The final set was, of course, Sibelius. I was struck by how musically varied these songs were. A song like Kalutar has something of Debussy in it, especially in the piano part whereas a couple of others might almost have been Russian folksongs, albeit to Swedish texts. The emotional landscape is pretty broad too from humorous to very dark and then there’s Våren flyktar hastigt which might almost make a good anthem for Toronto:
Spring is swift to fly away,
summer is swifter.
Autumn lingers long,
winter still longer.
Needless to say they were all faultlessly and idiomatically presented.
Soile Isokoski is giving a master class on Sunday for the young singers of the TSMF art song program. She certainly gave one last night.
Photo credits: James Ireland