Tuesday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a really well thought out programme by two of the prize winners from last year’s Montreal International Music Competition; soprano Meredith Wolgemuth and pianist Jinhee Park. The first set was a nicely characterised version of the quite varied Grieg Sechs Lieder op.48. Most of these are fairly sentimental German Romantic texts but Meredith and Jinhee injected lightness and humour where it was appropriate in, for instance, “Lauf der Welt”.
If one is a young Norwegian singer or collaborative pianist Greig’s songs offer a particular challenge. It’s music that one grows up with and the canonical recordings will be familiar. It’s a particular challenge too because, in some ways, Grieg’s approach to song is very modern. In particular, his approach to the piano part is quite different from classical German lieder. The piano rarely accompanies the singer. Its role is independent and often seems primary. Finding an approach that works then for both singer and pianist is non-trivial. Certainly treating the works as “vocal showpieces” won’t work as it would completely unbalance the music.
Today’s lunchtime recital in the RBA was really quite exceptional. Simone McIntosh and Stéphane Mayer offered up a really well chosen program and executed it extremely well. Grieg’s Sechs Lieder is a lovely and varied setting of six German texts. Poulenc’s Banalités sets texts by Apollinaire in a way that reflects their essential weirdness. Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder are as good examples as one can get of how the Second Vienna School, despite its scary reputation, is really all about lush and approachable and the closing set of Frank Bridge songs showed that he was a heck of a lot more than Britten’s composition teacher.
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a recital of Nordic art songs given by students from the University of Toronto’s music programme. The musical line up could certainly have been chosen for more variety. With the exception of some Sibelius at the end it was all a bit “Grieg and his buddies greatest hits”. This was rather reinforced by MC Steven Philcox’s rather prolix introductory remarks on each composer which can be summed up as as:
X was born into a wealthy family in Stockholm/Oslo/Copenhagen in 1840/50/60 and despite his father’s wish that he study law/medicine/for the Diplomatic he decided on a career in music and studied composition in Berlin/Dresden/Leipzig. His music was influenced by Swedish/Danish/Norwegian folklore. He wrote lots of stuff including no less than 200/400/800 songs for voice and piano