Old Songs, New Songs

Yesterday Matthew Cairns and Rachel Kerr performed an unusually wide range of songs in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.  It’s part of Matthew’s prep for his CBC recording session which was part of the prize at last year’s Centre Stage and which will be broadcast in the new year.  They kicked off with a contrasting pair of Duparc song’s.  First came the almost dreamy L’invitation au voyage with it’s arpeggio accompaniment followed by the much more dramatic Le manoir de Rosemonde.  These really set the tone for the recital.  There was power where it was needed but also considerable delicacy from both singer and pianist.

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Two Canadian songs came next.  John Beckwith’s Young Man from Canada is a comic piece which was brought off with plenty of humour and keen timing.  Harry Somers’ setting of Whitman’s Look down, fair moon was a suitably sombre counterpoint.  Handel’s Total eclipse from Samson was interesting.  It’s not a piece I’m familiar with and  it didn’t get the usual “English tenor sings Handel oratorio” treatment.  This was much more muscular which is unusual but made me wonder what something like Comfort ye or Where’er you walk would sound like sung like that.  It was followed by Bernstein’s exuberant Simple Song from his Mass sung, well, exuberantly.  Idiomatic versions of Schubert’s Wandrers Nachtlied and Bohn’s Still wie die Nacht covered the German Lied base.

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One doesn’t often hear a tenor sing either Träume from the Wesendonck Lieder or Strauss’ Zueignung but Matthew made the case for doing so effectively.  Some limpid singing in the first and then the gradual build of power in the second concluding with a real fine crescendo on the last phrase.  Good stuff.

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Every recital (except perhaps Germans and Barbara Hannigan) seems to include popular songs these days and I’m cool with that.  I like Danny Boy; it’s my go to karaoke staple, but Matthew sings it much better than I.  I also got a smile out of O sole mio, not least because I was working for Unilever’s frozen food company when it was used in a very expensive and not terribly successful ad campaign!  The encore was Bring Him Home from Les Miz which was really nicely done.

So what can I say about Matthew’s voice a few months into his professional career.  Most notably it’s big, powerful and muscular.  This is Vickers/Heppner territory not Juan Diego Florez!  We may have a real Heldentenor in the making here.  The flip side is that he doesn’t have the floatiest of high notes.  The notes are there but they don’t have that (apparently) effortless quality that some Lieder singers manage.  Maybe that will come.  Maybe it doesn’t need to given the “power package”.  And Rachel, she accompanied with both finesse and power and, best of all, really seemed to be enjoying herself; a mood which communicated itself very well to the audience.

Photo credits: Ian McIntosh

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