What do you get when you take nine multi-talented musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds and give them a Purcell toy box to play in? You get the latest concert in the Confluence series; ‘Tis Nature’s Voice: Henry Purcell Reimagined. It’s an amazingly fun evening that completely blows the cobwebs off the often stuffy Toronto baroque music scene. I can’t do a number by number account because I completely lost track. I was having way too much fun.
Your Daughter Fanny is a 45 minute long chamber opera with music by Alice Ho and libretto by Lisa Moore based on letters written by WW1 Newfoundland VAD nurse Frances Cluett (which can also be found in book form). It was performed yesterday at Heliconian Hall by soprano Caroline Schiller with Duo Concertante, Nancy Dahn (violin) and Timothy Steeves (piano).
I really liked the music. It was the first time I’ve heard a piece by Alice Ho that didn’t include traditional Chinese elements and it was stylistically interesting; rich textured, sometimes astringent, sometimes very lyrical with a very decent, singable vocal line.
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.
The third concert in the Heliconian Hall series from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang was titled Intersections and was designed to explore “the sphinx like mind of Robert Schumann” through his own music and music inspired by him. First up was Kurtàg’s Hommage à Robert Schumann featuring Alice and Brad and guest violist Laila Zakzook. This is a complex and difficult piece. Some sections consist of short fragments of “conversation” between the instruments. At other times there is a more obvious line and it varies in mood from extremely violent to almost lyrical. It’s an interesting exploration of Schumann’s various musical personalities through a completely different sound world.
There are a few things I didn’t mention in my back half of April post. Century Song opened a couple of nights ago at Crow’s Theatre. It’s a live performance hybrid, inspired in part by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, Soprano Neema Bickersteth melds classical song (music by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Oliver Messiaen, John Cage, Georges Aperghis and Reza Jacobs) and movement to inhabit a century of women whose identities are contained within a single performer. Details here.
Evolving Symmetry is the first of a promised series of collaborations by soprano Adanya Dunn, clarinetist Brad Cherwin and pianist Alice Gi-Yong Hwang. The focus will be on “modern” chamber and vocal works (for some value of “modern”) and last night at Heliconian Hall they presented French works ranging from the 189os to the 1960s.
The program was bookended by two late Poulenc works; the song cycle La courte paille to nonsense verse by Maurice Carème and the clarinet sonata. These works were composed at the same time and share some musical material though the sonata seems a weightier work. The songs are fun and playful and they were interpreted by Ms. Dunn with excellent French diction and lots of humour. The sonata is seems much sadder and more reflective though its final movement is manic enough. Fine playing from both musicians here.
Last night I went to see Essential Opera’s cheap and cheerful production of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. It was a semi staged production in the relatively small Heliconian Hall. Semi-staged in this case meant sung in costume from music stands with very basic blocking. Accompaniment was by Cathy Nosaty on piano and accordion which actually suited the music pretty well.
The singing was good, sometimes very good. Probably the stand out was Laura McAlpine’s Jenny. Of all the singers on display she was the one who seemed most immersed in the sound world of the piece and could vary style and technique appropriately. Erin Bardua’s Lucy Brown was really quite idiomatic too. The others were more consistently operatic which sounded a bit odd in places but worked surprisingly well in, for example David Roth and Heather Jewson’s rather refined refined and bourgeois Peachums. Obviously this approach also worked for the character who are usually sung operatically; Macheath, Brown and Polly for example. The ensembles were all also very effective.