Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival.  In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming.  There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital.  Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well.  They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless.  Three of the four sopranos on show tried.  None of them succeeded completely(*).  So it goes.  And so to the details.

First up was soprano Megan Miceli with Strauss’ Einerlei.  It was typical of the Strauss singing of the day.  The top notes sounded a bit forced rather than effortless and that rather messed up the phrasing.  Sibelius’ Men min fågel märks dock icke was much better.  It sounded appropriately bleak and was expressively phrased.  Stauss’ Morgen finished the set and at least allowed for some elegantly paced and phrased piano from Jared Tehse.

Mezzo Evanna Lai had impressed in the first concert and she did again.  She sang expressively in Madetoja’s Heijaa, Heijaa sounding perfectly confident in Finnish.  Her rendering of too Mahler songs was also spot on with excellent control of her upper register and fine musicianship.  Jack Olszewski sounded suitably virtuosic in the rather overwrought piano part in Erinnerung.

Soprano Sinéad White is interesting to listen to.  The voice is quite “slicey” and I would rather like to hear her with an orchestra.  She made a good job of Sibelius’ Törnet and showed some considerable agility in Strauss’ Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten which also got a really fine performance from Chelsea Whitaker at the piano.

The only soprano not offering Strauss was Bahareh Poureslami.  She gave us a very controlled and enjoyable version of Alfvén’s Skogen sover and some enjoyable Brahms and Sibelius.  She has a rather beautiful voice but the text tends rather to disappear under pressure.

After the break we got a welcome innovation.  Evanna Lai was joined by four members of the chamber music academy for a performance of Resphigi’ cantata for mezzo and string quartet  Il Tramonto.  This is an excellent idea and I’ve been canvassing for the Schoenberg Quartet No. 2 next time (assuming of course there’s a soprano who can do it – not a given).  Anyhow, Ms. Lai showed that when drama is appropriate she can be dramatic as well as exceptionally elegant and controlled.  Fine work too from Ji Soo Choi and Yeajin Kim (violins), Ekaterina Manafova (viola) and Nicholas Dento-Protsack (cello).

Next on was soprano Sydney Baedke with a couple of Strauss songs and a rather emotional and effective version of Sibelius’ Flickan kom ifrån sin äisklings möte.  This got very sympathetic accompaniment from Amy Seulky Lee.

So, all the out of towners had sung so it was time for the three locals.  The first of them was baritone Adam Harris.  Last week’s restrained hairdo was gone and it was back to the shaggy look we are used to.  It was also back to the restrained and elegant singing we are used to.  This was almost the Germanic “half a twitch of an eyebrow is too much” approach but it was highly effective in Brahms Die Mainacht and Kilpinen’s Om flotusen år.  He unbuttoned a bit dor Poulenc’s rather silly Hôtel and Voyage à Paris.  It’s a real pleasure to listen to someone who is so obviously in his comfort zone with artsong.  Lovely accompaniment from Ms. Whitaker.

Mezzo Victoria Marshall started off with Schumann’s Singet nicht in Trauertönen.  She sanf with agility and excellent attention to the text and that wonderful dark timbre that she has.  Jack Olszewski was equally agile at the keyboard.  She sang a pleasing version of Fauré’s Clair de Lune and wrapped up wuth Tchaikovsky’s Zakatilas’ Solntse.  She seems very comfortable with Russian and it’s an excellent fit with her timbre.

Finally it was baritone Joel Allison’s turn with Wolf’s Michelangelo-Lieder with Jared Tehse at the piano.  These are pretty dark pieces and both musicians showed some subtlety and restraint in performing them.  There were some impressive low notes from Joel in Alles endet, was entsehet.  There was appropriate drama too in the final number Fühit meine Seele das ersehnte Licht.  It was a fine and fitting finale to a very decent concert.

There’s one last chance for a look at these singers this afternoon when Soile Isokoski is giving an open masterclass (Walter Hall 2pm).

Photos if and when.

*The problem common to all the Strauss performances was that the singers didn’t quite have full control of the awkward high notes.  That meant that the phrasing got messed up and without effortless sounding phrasing these deceptively simple songs just don’t really work.  That said, full marks for effort and who wouldn’t want to use time with Ms. Isokoski to work on their Strauss?


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