Last night’s Toronto Summer Music concert at Koerner Hall featured two works played by the TSM Festival Orchestra conducted by Nicolas Ellis . The first was Keiko Devaux’ Arras. It’s a sort of tone poem for chamber orchestra. The base material is drawn from Keiko’s family’s musical and other heritage; agriculture, weaving, plainsong, Buddhist chant, chansons, Japanese-American pop and so on. Samples are rewoven, looped, distorted etc and mixed to form a “tapestry” (hence the title). The effect is quite hypnotic and rather soothing though there’s not much to get a “handle” on, which may be the point.
Inevitably, this year’s Krehm memorial concert was presented virtually. It premiered last night and is available on the Canzona Chamber Players Youtube channel. It’s in two parts. In the first Rachel Krehm is the soloist in the Schoenberg arrangement of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. I initially thought that Evan Mitchell’s tempi were on the slow side but they grew on me and Rachel sings expressively and rather beautifully. I like the chamber arrangement of these pieces precisely because the singer doesn’t have to force her voice over a big orchestra and can be more Lieder like.
Live from Salzburg is a new CD featuring music recorded live at Salzburg during the pandemic. The performers are Elīna Garanča, The Vienna Philharmonic and Christian Thielemann. There are two sets of songs; Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder (recorded in 2020) and Mahler’s Rückert Lieder (recorded in 2021). Both recordings were made during live performances in the Großesfestspielhaus.
I like Garanča a lot in this music. Sometimes I find her a bit “cold” but here there’s a really nice balance of emotion and clarity. Her articulation of the text is excellent and she sounds good throughout her range. The lower and middle ranges have a kind of burnished quality; not really dark but definitely not soprano like , while her upper register is controlled and smooth. The low end is perhaps best heard in Um Mitternacht where she shows real power and depth of emotion.
Vladimir Jurowski is a notable Mahler interpreter so a new recording of Mahler’s great symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde is welcome; especially when Jurowski’s own Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is combined with soloists as fine as Sarah Connolly and Robert Dean Smith.
What one gets is some superbly lyrical and detailed orchestral playing. It doesn’t emphasise the dramatic but it’s exciting enough and “big” enough to tax the soloists in places. I’m always a bit torn about whether I prefer the majesty of Mahler’s original scoring or the greater intimacy of Schoenberg’s chamber reduction. Certainly the full orchestral version requires really top notch soloists and this recording has them. Connolly is especially good and sounds absolutely ravishing in the Abschied. She seems totally in control with delicate singing, great articulation of the text and no sense of strain. Robert Dean Smith sounds suitably ardent and is very clear though showing some signs of strain in Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde but then who doesn’t?
The first of Amplified Opera’s series of three shows in the Ernest Balmer Studio took place last night. The series explores the idea of “otherness” in opera. The Way I See It , directed by Aria Umezawa, explores how the opera and wider world treat the visually impaired and how we (in the broadest sense) can not just accommodate but incorporate their insights and perspectives into our performance practice.
Last night’s final Koerner Hall event in Toronto Summer Music started off with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major. It’s a tuneful, well constructed piece which in places riffs off Romany music, hence its nickname “Turkish”. Jonathan Crow was the soloist with a small orchestra drawn from all the area’s major orchestras plus TSM Fellows. Gemma New conducted. It was very satisfying. The orchestra was excellent and the interplay between solist and orchestra worked very well. It’s quite a demanding piece for the soloist and I really enjoyed the sound that Jonathan produced. He plays an instrument with a rather distinctive timbre which worked well here. I’m curious about the first movement cadenza. I don’t know the work well enough to knoew what the options are but this one was very virtuosic though sounding distinctly post-Mozartian.
Collectìf’s latest show for the Toronto Summer Music Festival at Walter Hall last night was called Beyond Perception: What Haunts Us Now. It presented three new multimedia works each curated and directed by one of the trio of singers. The first piece, by Whitney O’Hearne featured arrangements of French works; both folk and classical that deal with the idea of La Dame Blanche; by turns sorceress or virgin bride. Turning the idea of male defined female transgression upside down to celebrate women’s agency, O’Hearn combined arrangements of the chosen music for combinations of three voices and piano with soft focus atmospheric video rather reminiscent of Collectìf’s Winterreise show at Heliconian Hall. The singing was beautiful and the concept intriguing. Top notch accompaniment by Trevor Chartrand.
There are a couple of interesting concerts coming up in the last week of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. On the 24th at 7.30pm in Walter Hall you can see Collectìf in a “spooky” programme. Collectìf is a group started by Danika Lorèn and friends. They do shows that incorporate staging, art song and video and they are never boring. (They also do adult cabaret but that’s another story!). Wednesday’s show is called Beyond Perception: What Haunts Us Now and features three sections. The first is built around the theme of La Dame Blanche, the second features Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and the last deals with the myth of Daphne and Apollo. Recommended. And as an added incentive for operaramblings readers there’s a discount code OR10 which will get you $10 tickets. Tickets from the Royal Conservatory Box Office online, in person or by phone.
Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters recital featured the relatively unusual combination of soprano Monica Whicher accompanied by Judy Loman on harp. It was a very well constructed and executed afternoon of song. Each set had something to offer.Th first set was of English songs of the 16th and 17th centuries including the very lovely O Death Rock Me Asleep attributed, almost certainly inaccurately, to Anne Boleyn. All very touching and harp seeming very appropriate for songs which were likely intended for lute accompaniment.
Christian Gerhaher’s recording of Mahler Lieder with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal under Kent Nagano is his first recording of the great Mahler cycles with orchestra. The disc contains Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the Kindertotenlieder and the Rückert Lieder. This is singing of the highest class with great beauty, no lack of power and intense attention to the text. It’s hard to imagine a singer being more in this music than Gerhaher. Being Gerhaher, it’s quite individual and quite restrained (much less exuberant than Fischer-Dieskau) but without sounding unduly mannered. It sounds exactly right and yet no-one else would sing these songs quite the same way. The accompaniment from the Montreal orchestra is also very fine with great clarity of texture and lovely playing of the important woodwind solos.
The recording quality is excellent with a judicious balance between voice and orchestra and a limpidity that does justice to the clarity of the orchestral playing. Full texts and translations are provided.