It’s that time of year when departing members of the COC Ensemble Studio give their farewell recitals in the RBA. On Tuesday it was the turn of Midori Marsh and Alex Halliday and they did it in style. The programme was interesting and the music making excellent. Although they alternated sets it’s probably easy to deal with each singer in turn.
Midori sang with Brian Cho at the piano. She started off with a set of four sngs; one for each season and varied in style and language. There was Grainger, Koechlin, Wolf and Barber. Midori’s diction was excellent in all three languages and the singing was subtle and stylish. I particularly liked Koechlin’s L’hiver which has a very cool piano part beautifully played by Brian.
For me though the main event was Libby Larsen’s Try Me Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII. This is a dramatic piece of many moods from the intellectual seriousness and dignity of Katherine of Aragon and Ann Boleyn through the innocence of Jane Seymour and the cheekiness of Anne of Cleves to the hapless, hopeless Katherine Howard. Midori had designed a highly effective “staging” using just a chair and a red scarf. Combined with sharply characterised singing for each character and spectacular playing by Brian it was a real treat. Not sure why this isn’t done more often. As best I can tell the last time it was given in Toronto it was Ambur Braid and Steven Philcox (November 2015). Maybe it just needs a rather special stage animal to pull it off and both ladies are that.
Alex was good value too. He started with “Riez, allez, riez de pauvre ideologue” from Massenet’s Don Quichotte. He took the bold approach and sang with considerable power and brio. That’s the way to do opera in the RBA’s weird acoustic and it paid off. He took a similar approach to Mozart’s Per questa bella mano. This is a concert aria for bass, orchestra and double bass obbligato. Obviously we got piano (Vlad Soloviev) rather than orchestra but there was a bassist; Daniel Villareal from the GGS. Again, lots of attack and stylish singing withDaniel doing very well with the notorious bass part.
There were two well known Vaughan Williams’ songs’ “Silent Noon” and “Whither Must I Wander”. These are gutsy choices as they have been recorded by pretty much every anglophone baritone of note since the beginning of the LP era so the bar is high. Alex and Vlad did very well. The text was sensitively delivered with excellent control of colour and dynamics and the accompaniment was sympathetic. I would happily listen to Alex sing either of the cycles these are drawn from. He finished up with Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss in an arrangement by Liz Upchurch. No haggises were harmed. Really it was a very nice way to (almost) finish up.
Because of course there was an encore and, equally of course, it was “La ci darem la mano”. It was very nicely done though, unlike Sasha Djihanian and Cam McPhail in their Les adieux, (which, gulp, was nine years ago) the Don didn’t actually sweep Zerlina off her feet.
An excellent effort from two singers with promising futures.
Photo credit: Chris Hutcheon