Mélodies Passagères is a new CD from Montreal based duo soprano Marianne Lambert and pianist Julien LeBlanc. Toronto folks may remember the latter as the music director/pianist for Against the Grain’s Pelléas et Mélisande a few years ago. The selection of songs; by Barber, Bizet, Delage, Delibes, Granados, Lavallée, Massenet and Paladihle, is intended to evoke escaping, journeying, dreaming and sensuality and it does that pretty well. Most of the pieces are not particularly well known though there are a few chestnuts like Bizet’s Les adieux de l’hôtesse Arabe and Délibes’ Les filles de Cadix.
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.
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.
Samuel Barber’s Vanessa doesn’t get performed much and the recently released recording of the 2018 Glyndebourne production is the only video version available. It’s pretty interesting, if perplexing at times, and I’m not as convinced as many of the people interviewed in the “extras” portion of the disk that this is an “under-rated masterpiece”.
Anthony Dean Griffey and Warren Jones’ TSMF recital at Walter Hall last night was an all English language affair with offerings from both sides of the pond. IT kicked off with Frank Bridge’s Three Songs for voice, viola and piano with the viola part played on the cello by David Heiss. These might better be billed as for “Viola, piano and voice” as the viola part is much, much more interesting than the vocal line. Really it felt more like a piece of chamber music that happened to include a vocalist. Heiss played beautifully as did Jones and Griffey did what was to be done with the vocal line.
This afternoon I saw Gerry Finley and Julius Drake in recital at Koerner Hall. In other words, two supreme exponents of the art of lieder at the top of their game in a hall with near perfect acoustics. They performed Beethoven and Schubert settings of Goethe texts, some Tchaikovsky and some Rachmaninoff, which gave Julius ample opportunity to show off. They finished up with settings of folky things by Copland, Barber, Respighi and Britten. The last was The Crocodile; a very silly and funny piece I hadn’t heard before. The encore was by Healey Willans and Gerry gave a very nice plug for the Canadian Art Song Project. Insert standard list of adjectival phrases describing top notch singing and accompaniment. My humble scribing is not worthy.
Last night’s Decades series concert featured three works from the 1930s plus a sesqui. The sesqui, Andrew Balfour’s Kiwetin-acahkos; Fanfare for the Peoples of the North was definitely one of the more interesting of these short pieces. There were elements of minimalism combined with a nod to Cree/Métis fiddle music. Quite complex and enjoyable. It was followed by Barber’s rather bleak Adagio for Strings and the Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. It’s familiar enough fare and was well played by the orchestra under Peter Oundjian. I particularly enjoyed some of the weird percussion/celesta effects in the third movement of the Bartók. But really I was there for the second half of the program.
Layla Claire is one of a handful of young Canadian singers making something of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with major roles in Glyndebourne, Zürich, Toronto and Salzburg and an upcoming Pamina at the Met. Her debut recital CD Songbird, with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, was recently issued on the ATMA Classique label. It’s an interesting and varied collection of songs though never straying very far from familiar recital territory. It’s tilted towards French (Gounod, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Bizet) and German (Wolf, Strauss, Brahms, Liszt) repertoire but there’s also Quilter, Barber, Argento and Britten (the comparatively rare Seascape which is, oddly, omitted from the CD liner).
Aaron Gervais’ and Colleen Murphy’s Oksana G. finally made it to the stage last night after a most convoluted journey. It’s being produced by Tapestry at the Imperial Oil Theatre with Tom Diamond directing. The wait, I think has been worth it. The story, set in 1997, of a naive country girl from the Ukraine who gets caught up in sex trafficking is dramatic and the it convincingly depicts the sleazy underworld of southern and eastern Europe created by the collapse of the USSR, the civil wars in the Balkans and the pervasive official corruption in countries like Ukraine, Greece and Italy. It’s gritty and, at times, not at all easy to watch.
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured three current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. First up was tenor Aaron Sheppard making his adieux with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation; a setting of texts by Thomas Hardy. It’s an interesting cycle; quite spare with, despite its lack of density, an intricate piano part that reveals some interesting chromaticism. The vocal line calls for great delicacy and control with occasionally injections of power. We got all that in a very fine performance by Aaron, and by Stéphane Mayer at the piano. It was probably the best performance I’ve heard from Aaron. He’s always had a rather beautiful, but perhaps too delicate voice. Here the control, phrasing and emphasis was all there but so was some oomph when needed. His performance was very true to the texts which have that same quality that Houseman exudes; Merry England with Death just peeking in from around the corner when one least expects it. Good stuff.