There were three reGENERATION concerts in Walter Hall yesterday at 1pm, 4pm and 7.30pm. It made for a long but interesting day. As last year, each concert was a mix of vocal and chamber music. The vocal program was not announced in advance so I’m working from notes and there could be the odd error. Pleasingly, there were surtitles for the songs. This is a huge improvement on a sheet of tiny print to be read in the dark!
Affairs kicked off with mezzo Alex Hetherington and pianist Scott Downing. She started with Mein Liebe ist grün by Schumann and Brahm’s Heimweh. It’s a pleasant young mezzo sound plus her German diction is good. She doesn’t really have the solid, smoky, lower register one ideally wants but she’s just out of undergrad so we shall see where it goes. What she does have is fine musicianship well illustrated by a very fine performance of Somers’ Loon Cry. It’s a difficult, exposed piece with minimal piano support, long high notes and even the use of the piano sounding board for “echo”. I want to hear this piece again.
Tenor Elisa Theocharidis was next with Hanzheng Li at the keyboard. It’s a young tenor voice (another new grad) and quite raw but the bigger problem is he mimes every action in the song. With a bit of time for the voice to grow he could sound quite good but he absolutely needs to let the music and text do their job.
The final singer of the first concert was soprano Carolyn Beaudoin with Bronwyn Schuman at the piano. We got Brahms Alte Liebe, a heartfelt reading of Schubert’s Nachstück plus his Suleika. It’s a pleasant light soprano voice which sounds very nice as long as it isn’t pushed too hard. Good sense of text and phrasing too.
The chamber piece was the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 given by Jessy Ye Young Kim and Jonathan Crow (violins), Soyoung Cho (viola), Fiona Robson (cello) and Grace Hy Ri Shin (piano). This is a really good piece and it got a fine performance. It’s pretty dark but there is the usual Shostakovich quota of musical jokes and a fine scherzo. There was some very fine solo playing from Kim and lovely combinations of violin, pizzicato cello and some pretty cool piano in the finale. Musically, this was the most substantial piece of the day and perhaps, overall, the most satisfying.
The 4pm gifg kicked off with bass Matthew Li and pianist Scott Downing. Two Schubert songs came first; Der Atlas and Ihr Bild. I liked Li’s voice. It’s not the most profundo of basses but the low notes are there and he handles the text well. I thought Downing was over loud. That might be appropriate in Der Atlas but not in the second song. Balance was better in a nicely presented version of the Ecclesiates text from Brahm’s Vier ernste Gesänge.
Mezzo Chelsea Melamed and Hanzheng Li presented Debussy’s Trois chansons de Bilitis as a set. It was good. She has a proper mezzo lower register and pleasing high notes. The text was treated with sensitivity to meaning and good diction and the two worked well together.
Tenor Eric Laine and Julie Choi were next. It was an interesting set. Jake Heggie’s Raymond de Linossier is one of those modern American songs that live on the borderlands between art song and Broadway. It was idiomatically done. Next was one of the numbers from Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. This was written for Peter Pears and it sits high. One felt that it was a stretch for Laine and there were times when he seemed to be verging on falsetto. Wolf’s Der Rattenfänger closed things out. This was much better with command of the helter skelter line and good story telling. All three pieces have tricky piano parts in very different idioms; all of which Choi navigated with apparent ease.
The chamber piece was the Brahms String Sextet No.2 in G Major, Op. 36 played by Russell Iceberg and Chris Stork (violins), Eric Newlin and Chung Han Hsaio (violas) and Jacob Efthimiou and Allison Rich (cellos). There are some interesting textures in this piece; especially the way the cellos are used almost in opposition to each other. It was extremely well played. It was becoming clear that the standard of virtuosity in the chamber works was going to be very high.
The 7.30pm concert took a slightly different format. Things kicked off with the Dohnányi Piano Quintet No.1 in C minor, Op. 1; a work written in his mid teens. Heg-Han Hou and Gregory Lewis were on violin with violist Matthew Eeuwes, cellist Brian Manker and pianist Jialiang Zhu. It’s basically a virtuoso showpiece especially for the first violin and it got the treatment. This seems to be a bit of a theme this year with all the Kreisler “pops” on opening night and so on. Give me the Shostakovich anytime but the audiences seem to love it.
Soprano Yunji Shim was up next with Carolyn Schuman. It was immediately apparent that we were listening to a more mature singer than any earlier in the day. She kicked off with Hahn’s À Chloris and L’énamourée. It’s a really nice full soprano clearly capable of making a big, beautiful sound. The only nit is her incessant hand gestures and her very approximate French. Donaudy’s O del mio amato ben at least didn’t have the diction problem. Schuman’s accompaniment was appropriately idiomatic.
The final singer of the day was baritone Clarence Frazer with Julie Choi. He kicked off with Finzi’s O Mistress Mine. This was really nice’ well characterized but not overdone and with a real sense of the wit and style of these Shakespeare settings. This was followed by Wohin? and Am Feierabend from Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. The technical command and the diction, that comes with a few more years in the profession, is there so the focus can be on the storytelling as it should be. Sympathetic accompaniment from Choi throughout. A very enjoyable end to the day’s vocal program.
The final chamber piece was the Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20. It’s rather curiously scored for four violins (Andrew Wan, Katya Polyansky, Sienna Minkyong Cho and Alessia Disimino), two violas (Minkyoung Lee and Georgina Rossi) and two cellos (Jaeyoung Chong and Andrew Ascenzo). It’s another virtuosic work and it got the treatment to the great delight of the audience. There’s a bit more to it though musically. I especially like the well constructed presto fugue in the final movement (with a cheeky Handel quote).
So, all in all, an interesting and satisfying but very long day. The gaps between concerts are quite long and, bar grabbing something to eat between the 4pm and 7.30pm concerts there isn’t a lot to do to fill in the time. Moving the first concert to 1.30pm and the last to 7pm would shorten the day while leaving decent gaps between the sessions.
Photo credits: James Ireland