The second set of reGENERATION concerts of the Topronto Summer Music Festival took place yesterday at Walter Hall. The song portion, unusually, consisted of 100% English language rep, mirroring the Griffey/Jones recital earlier in the wee. The first concert kicked off with tenor Eric Laine and pianist Scott Downing with five songs from Finzi’s setting of Thomas Hardy; A Young Man’s Exhortation. It was good. Laine has a nice sense of style and very good diction. The high notes are there though sometimes, especially at the end of a line, they don’t sound 100% secure. There was some quite delicate accompaniment from Downing too.
Soprano Yunji Shim was next with Hanzheng Li at the piano. John Duke’s I Carry Your Heart with Me was followed by two songs by Ernest Charles.. Shim’s English is good and she has a rather beautiful and powerful voice. She’s at her best in dramatic sections. I think it’s a good thing that opera singers take on song rep but I do think she is very much an opera singer rather than a recitalist.
Baritone Clarence Frazer and accompanist Bronwyn Schumann took on three songs from the heart (and soul) of the English repertoire. First was Love Sight from Vaughan Williams cycle The House of Life and it was followed by two of Butterworth’s Houseman settings; Loveliest of Trees and Is My Team Ploughing? These are songs that have been performed and recorded by every great British baritone since they were written so expectations are inevitably high. They are also very, very tricky pieces. Here they were very well done. There were no histrionics from voice or piano though, for example, the two voices in Is My Team Ploughing? were appropriately differentiated. It was good classic English art song and I don’t have many higher compliments than that.
Mezzo Chelsea Melamed accompanied by Julie Choi gave us five songs that showed some dramatic and comedic flair. Britten’s setting of Blake; A Charm of Lullabies, is just plain weird. They are hardly lullabies and they aren’t charming. Blake I guess. Here they were sung with aplomb and some considerable humour. Britten’s typically demanding piano part was also nicely managed. Two songs by Tom Cipollo and William Bolcom demonstrated similar qualities.
The chamber piece was the Dvořák String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat Major played by Joel Link, Heng Han Hou, Matthew Eeuwes and Fiona Robson. Pretty classic Dvořák with Czech folk tunes and plenty of virtuosity. Well played as all the chamber music has been all festival.
The 4pm concert began with Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat Major played by Sienna Minkyong Cho, Bryan Lee, Soyoung Cho, Georgina Rossi and Jaeyung Chong. This was a bit different from some of the flashier pieces we’ve been hearing (notably the much better known Octet). There was some real depth of feeling here especially in the third movement. I can admire sheer virtuosity but it doesn’t move me. This did.
Next was tenor Elias Theocharidis with Julie Choi. Well what a difference a week can make! This was so much better than last week. He started with Britten’s The Choirmaster’s Burial. It’s a lagubrious piece but he managed it very well. His diction was excellent and he didn’t over act. I think he’s still a bit too emphatic; trying to impose himself on the song rather than let it do its thing but still enjoyable. He followed by two songs by Olley Speaks (Sylvia) and Ben Moore (The Lake of Innisfree). These belong to that genre of American song I just don’t get. The piano part seems unrelated to the text (and contains far too many diminished sevenths) and the vocal line is just plain dull. One wonders if Moore had ever actually read the Yeats. Handled well enough by singer and pianist but why bother?
Mezzo Alex Hetherington with Bronwyn Schumann gave us Let Beauty Awake from Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. It was really nice and an unusual pleasure to hear it sung by a mezzo. St. Ita’s Vision and The Crucifixion from Barber’s Hermit Songs followed. These are weird, disturbing and, in the right hands, deeply moving. I was moved. I would have liked to hear her sing the whole cycle.
The concert closed with Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor. Alessia Disimio, Milena Pajato-van der Stadt, Andrew Ascenzo and Jialiang Zhu gave us four movements of angsty German bourgeois sexual frustration albeit with some spiffy piano and a rather good cello solo in the third movement.
The 7.30pm concert opene with (even) more Dvořák. This time it was the Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor played by Jessy Je Young Kim, Camden Shaw and Grace Hye Ri Shin. There were gypsy tunes and weird echoes of Rusalka. Can we say it Czeched all the boxes?
Soprano Carolyn Beaudoin and Scott Downing gave us a rather odd set. There was Elizabeth Maconchy’s Sun, Moon, Stars which has a very percussive vocal line and a very high singing part. Charles Griffes’ Thy Dark Eyes to Mine also didn’t sound very singable and had a strangely detached piano part. Both pieces were done quite well but seemed like a lot of effort for not much rerward. The set finished up with Ives’ The Housatonic at Stockbridge. This is a much more lyrical and well constructed piece but surprisingly un-Ivesian. Nice way to finish though.
Matthew Li and Hanzheng Li closed out the song programme. There was a very well done version of Barber’s I Hear an Army and then two Copland Songs that revealed aspects of Matthew Li I wouldn’t necessarily have suspected. There was real delicacy in Long Time Ago; especially the handling of the little flourish at the end of the refrain. The Boatman’s Dance showed that he could sing with agility (and some humour) right at the top of his range. Maybe here is a bass who will one day sing those near impossible to cast Rossini roles?
There was Chausson scheduled for after the interval but it had been a long day and I decided to skip that.