Toronto Summer Music opened on Thursday night at Koerner Hall with a concert called Inspirations featuring chamber and vocal music drawn from folk influences. It began with Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style Op. 102 for piano and cello played by Rachael Kerr and Matthew Zalkind. The folk roots are pretty clear here and since the pieces were written with amateur performance in mind those roots aren’t over elaborated and the result is satisfying. Not that they got an amateurish performance. Quite the opposite.
Cecilia Livingston’s Homesung: Four Songs by Wade Helmsworth didn’t work so well for me despite the arrangements being interesting and the performance, by Mireille Asselin and Steven Philcox being excellent. I think the problem is the source material. Only “The Wild Goose” sounded even vaguely like a folk song. The others were clearly composed music in more of a sort of “parlour” genre. It’s a thorny area of course. A lot of songs that are considered “traditional” folk songs are far from ancient. Standards like “Raglan Road” have origins almost as recent as Helmsworth and to bring it closer to home I think I must have heard “Barrett’s Privateers” at least a dozen times before I ever heard the name Stan Rogers. On the other hand the same duo’s performance of two of Mykola Lysenko’s Folksong Arrangements for Voice and Piano did have the echt folk touch.
Closing out the first half of the programme was Ravel’s Tzigane for violin (Yura Lee) and piano (Rachael Kerr). Everyone knows Hungarians are at least half mad so it’s no surprise that a Frenchman writing Hungarian inspired music should go completely bonkers. This is one of those pieces where one expects the violin to catch fire and the piano explode. Brilliantly performed by two ladies who must have at least twenty fingers each.
The second half of the evening was devoted to Dvorák’s Piano Quintet No.2 in A Major Op. 81. The first three movements are clearly folk influenced, especially the third which is based on a dance that involves a pompous politician walking like a chicken; perhaps appropriate for “Sod Off Boris Day”, and, in any event brilliantly demonstrated by Tom Allen who MC’d the whole show. Much virtuosity on show here, especially in the final, rather fast fugue. All in all fine collaborative music making from Yura Lee and Martin Beaver (violins), Juan-Miguel Hernandez (viola), Matthew Zalkind (cello) and Nicolas Namoradze (piano).
An auspicious start to the festival.
Photo credit: Caroline Barbier de Reulle.