Last night’s early evening free “shuffle” concert at Heliconian Hall featured Krisztina Szabó and Stephen Philcox. They started out with Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras; a lively collection of Spanish songs featuring scenes from Cuban life. The songs, very much French influenced, varied in mood from quite sombre to wild and were presented with skill and wit. The main event though was the reprise of two works that Philcox and Szabó premiered in March at Walter Hall; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan and Four Short Songs by John Beckwith. I reviewed that March performance here and really don’t see any reason to revise my opinion about the works or the performances except to note that last night, of course, Krisztina sang all the Beckwith songs.
Perhaps the most interesting concert of the Toronto Summer Music festival so far took place at Walter Hall last night. The main event was the presentation of Sounding Thunder; a work about the life of Francis Pegahmagabow, Canadian war hero and First Nations activist.
Last night, at Walter Hall, the Canadian Art Song Project presented their latest commission; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan. The overall standard of the CASP commissions since Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox launched the endeavour has been very high. The Ryan piece maintains that.
Yesterday’s VOICEBOX presentation was Handel’s Rodelinda. It was given in their usual style. No sets (bar the odd projection), minimal props, concert wear and the singers mostly in front of an onstage orchestra. The main attraction was the “all star” cast. To have Christina Haldane, David Trudgen, Charles Sy and Alex Dobson in the principal roles is something of a luxury. The two young mezzos rounding out the cast; Gena van Oosten and Meagan Larios weren’t half bad either.
The decision by Toronto Masque Theatre to pair Purcell’s miniature opera, Dido and Aeneas, with James Rolfe and André Alexis’ piece on the lovers’ inner thoughts, Aeneas and Dido, paid off last night. It produced an evening of just the right length with two contrasting but complementary pieces working really well together.
Effective the end of the, not yet announced, 2017/18 season Larry Beckwith will step down as Artistic Director of Toronto Masque Theatre and with his going the company will pack up its tents. It’s unfortunate because TMT filled an interesting niche but fifteen years of organising, directing, administering and fund raising (especially the last) is a pretty long innings. TMT has done a lot of innovative stuff over the years but I’ll remember them as a company that was not afraid to experiment with ideas and elements from outside the Western Classical tradition as exemplified by Alice Ping Yee Ho’s The Lesson of Da Ji and their upcoming show The Man Who Married Himself. Toronto, of all cities, needs to find ways to incorporate the different cultural and musical traditions we come from into new art. Larry and his collaborators did that.
It’s been four years since the initial Canadian Art Song Project concert in the RBA. Since then they’ve commissioned a number of works and started a recital series that has included innovative presentations such as the performance of Brian Harman’s Sewing the Earthwormgiven in November. A work premiered that night; Erik Ross’ The Living Spectacle formed the conclusion to yesterday’s concert but first came a series of works performed by students from the University of Toronto.