Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured Russell Braun and Caolyn Maule in a generous and varied program anchored on Schumann’s Dichterliebe; a setting of sixteen poems by Heine. It was framed by three Mendelssohn songs and a varied and intriguing second half program.
Russell is a singer at the height of his powers. He has a lovely instrument and perfect control of pitch, dynamics and tone colour. He’s also a sensitive and musical human being. Throw all that at text and music as rich as Dichterliebe and the result is inevitably quite wonderful. One could just luxuriate in an emotional journey through the highs and lows of romantic love and a physical one up and down that magical river, the Rhine. The Mendelssohn was rather lovely too.
Today’s recital in the RBA was given by Russell Braun. Carolyn Maule and members of the COC orchestra. The programme, Journeys of the Soul, divided into two quite distinct halves. In the first, Russell was joined by Marie Bedard and Dominique Laplants (violins), Keith Hamm (viola) and Paul Widner (cello) in a performance of Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach; a setting of a text by Matthew Arnold. It’s a very dark text and rather an extraordinary choice for a twenty year old. The music is equally dark and brooding. It’s a great work for Russell though and plays well to the colours of his voice and his keen attention to text. It was a pleasure to hear in the very intimate atmosphere of the RBA.
This afternoon’s Off Centre concert at the Glenn Gould Studio was structured around three pairs of composer friends; Mozart/Haydn, Schumann/Brahms and Wolf/Mahler. It was a mix of lieder, opera excerpts and piano pieces and was pleasantly varied.
Things kicked off with Russell Braun singing a number of songs from Schumann’s Liederkreis accompanied by his partner, Carolyn Maule on the piano. This was maybe the third time that I’ve heard Russell in recital and he really is impressive. He has a really good command of a wide range of dynamics and tone colour and lovely floaty high notes. If I was being hyper critical I’d say I think there’s a point in the middle voice though that can’t quite sustain the volume he sometimes tries to get. He has quite an operatic approach to lieder (compared to, say, DFD) but that’s quite fun in its own way.
The free concert series that the COC puts on in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre often has interesting programs and frequently the performances are very good indeed. It’s also pretty good value for money. It’s not often though that the line up is as starry as today’s gig. Baritone Russell Braun was joined by his L’Amour du Loin costars Erin Wall (soprano) and Krisztina Szabó (mezzo) plus Ensemble Studio tenor Chris Enns. On the piano were COC Music Director Johannes Debus and Carolyn Maule.
They kicked off with Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer. They were performed with verve and skill and quite a bit of humour but I’m afraid it was still Brahms. In my book Brahms should be loved from afar. I much preferred the selections from Schumann’s Spanische Liebeslieder which followed. I particularly liked Russell’s rendering of Flutenreicher Ebro which showed great feeling for the words and real skill in articulating different moods through voice colour. Krisztina also gave us a ravishing version of Hoch, hoch sind die Berger.
The revelation for me though was John Greer’s settings of Canadian folk songs; All Around the Circle. Looking at the words I thought this was going to be really hokey but in fact both the vocal arrangements and piano accompaniments are really pretty sophisticated and right up there with better known English and Australian folk song settings for voice and piano. The quartet gave them all they had. Lots of attack, good ensemble work and tons of humour. (One needs humour with a line like “She’ll be waiting for me there with the hambone of a bear”!). Terrific piano playing here too from Johannes and Carolyn. It was fun! (And great value for money)