I found out quite late about OPUS Chamber Music and their current short concert series so I was only able to attend the last show on Sunday evening at Grace Church on-the-Hill. Pianist Kevin Ahfat is the driving force behind these concerts and he was able to marshal an impressive line up including recent Indianopolis Violin Competition gold medallist Serena Huang.
The first half of the programme was essentially French. Brannon Cho joined Kevin for Poulenc’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. It has a lively first movement with jazzy dance rhythms and lots of interaction between the players which showed excellent mutual understanding. The second movement is more limpid and languorous and drew some rather elegantly beautiful sounds from both cello and piano. The third movement is marked “Ballabile” which was new to me. Apparently it refers to a dance by the corps de ballet. I can see that. It’s fast and intricate with lots of pizzicato from the cello. The finale is almost like back to the beginning with more playful interaction between the instruments. Lovely playing in both the livelier and the more lyrical passages with an appropriate sense of Frenchness. Continue reading →
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.
Last evening saw the first post-plague edition of the Christina and Louis Quilico Awards competed for by the singers of the COC Ensemble Studio. Six of Ensemble’s seven singers competed with Vladimir Soloviev and Brian Cho providing piano accompaniment. It wasn’t the most thrilling Quilico Awards ever. The judges; Perryn Leech, Carolyn Sproule and Steven Philcox probably had a pretty easy time of it. So herewith how it came out.
Yesterday the Ensemble Studio put on a really nicely curated tribute to Pauline Viardot. Viardot was a singer, pianist, composer and muse who was enormously influential in music circles in paris in the middle years of the 19th century. She came from a famous musical family and was the younger sister of Maria Malibran. Her own work is little performed today although the Royal Conservatory did her Cendrillon in 2016.
In another nod to normality the COC’s free concert series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre kicked off with the traditional concert with the members of the Ensemble Studio. It was reasonably well attended, which is good news. But unlike previous years one didn’t need to be there an hour early to get a seat. Which is not so good news. I’m really curious to see when and if we start to get back to pre-plague audiences.
For me in previous years, this concert has been about taking stock; an opportunity to reflect on which members of the ES have progressed and how. Yesterday was much harder as I’ve seen little of any of them (live at least) for two and a half years. Some things though stood out. Midori Marsh, who kicked off the show with “Caro nome” has matured quite a lot. She’s always had a terrific voice but here she showed as a much more polished and poised performer. Alex Hetherington is also something of a known quality with her excellent 2021 Norcop Prize recital one of the better streamed events of the pandemic. She gets bonus points for singing “Lord, to Thee Each Night” from Handel’s Theodora. It’s a highly charged and technically awkward piece that demonstrated her technique and artistic sensibility nicely. Continue reading →
A comparatively rare excursion into purely instrumental music for me last night but the prospect of Sir Andrew Davis conducting Beethoven’s seventh symphony was irresistible.
The “garage piece” was the overture to King Stephen. Probably the most notable thing about this is that it was composed for a play by von Kotzebue who had just turned down Beethoven’s idea of writing the libretto for an opera on the life of Attila the Hun. It’s not a fabulous piece but it was efficiently despatched.
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.
There were three reGENERATION concerts in Walter Hall yesterday at 1pm, 4pm and 7.30pm. It made for a long but interesting day. As last year, each concert was a mix of vocal and chamber music. The vocal program was not announced in advance so I’m working from notes and there could be the odd error. Pleasingly, there were surtitles for the songs. This is a huge improvement on a sheet of tiny print to be read in the dark! Continue reading →
And so to the aria competition. Twenty four singers in three sessions are competing for twelve places in the semifinals. It’s piano for the first round but after that it’s the Maison Symphonique and the OSM. As with the art song competition I’ve tried to keep my session reports free of hindsight. This one was written between the afternoon and evening sessions last night. It will be followed by a report on yesterday evening and tomorrow should see the post on the third session and the judges decisions.
First up in afternoon was Canadian mezzo Carolyn Sproule. She kicked off with Strauss’ Wie du warst!, followed it up with Printemps qui commence from Samson et Delila and finished up with Ah! Quando all’ara scorgemi from Maria Stuarda. It was all pretty good. She’s a genuine mezzo with power enough and she got more dramatic as the set went on. I thought it was maybe a little under-characterised but compared to much of what came later it was positively thespian.