Voices Across the Atlantic

Last night’s Toronto Summer Music concert at the Church of the redeemer was headlined by Daniel Taylor, Charles Daniels and Steven Philcox but, somewhat to my surprise, also featured multiple fellows from both the art song and chamber music programmes.

The “headliners” kicked things off with Britten’s canticle Abraham and Isaac, based on one of the Chester Mystery Plays.  I thought I knew this piece but soon realised I was confusing it with the setting of Owen’s The Parable of the Old Man and the Young in the War Requiem!  It’s an interesting piece with a very medieval Catholic take on an Old Testament story.  It was performed here with the delicacy and attention to detail I’d expect from these performers.

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Next up was Barber’s Dover Beach performed by Clarence Frazer and a string quartet drawn fron the academy programme.  It’s a wonderfully understated piece.  The vocal line isn’t flashy and the strings support and reinforce the singer.  It all serves to evoke the resigned, elegiac mood of Arnold’s text.  The performers went with the mood; nothing flashy, just solid musically apt performances all round.  In a week where virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake has seemed to be a theme it was very welcome.

Brahms’ Four Quartets Op. 92 for SATB abd piano came next with two different singer line ups and assorted pianists.  I guess that was the point.  The last one is titled Warum?  Indeed.

The “headliners” were joined by Clarence Frazer for perhaps the highlight of the night; Britten’s The Journey of the Magi.  It’s a fabulous setting of one of Eliot’s best poems and it was sung with great beauty and clarity.  Steven Philcox at the piano sounded equally at home.  No mean feat as Britten’s piano parts are never straightforward.

Four Monteverdi madrigals rounded out the published programme.  Various combinations of singers and continuo instruments were involved.  It was enjoyable but did tend rather to sound like a bunch of solo singers jamming rather than a choir that was used to singing together.  Mind, it was probably often like that back in Monteverdi’s day too so maybe that’s how it should be.

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Unusually for such a programme there was an encore; an acapella rendering of Healey Willans’ Rise up my love, my fair one.  There was also a post show reception with quite the best snacks I’ve ever encountered at one of these events!

Photo credit: Gord Fulton

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