Yesterday’s concert in the RBA was dedicated to the late Stuart Hamilton, founding director of the COC’s Ensemble Studio. Current members, mezzo Emily D’Angelo and baritone Bruno Roy, each gave us two sets of French songs accompanied respectively by Hyejin Kwon and Stéphane Mayer. Ms. D’Angelo gave us Débussy’s Chansons de Bilitis and the curiously Débussy like Trois Mélodies by Messiaen. Both sets are quite meditative and impressionistic and Ms. D’Angelo’s very beautiful voice suited them well. There’s more there than beauty of tone. She’s showing some interesting, very mezzoish, colours in the voice now and there’s clearly plenty of power in reserve as she showed on a couple of occasions. It’s so easy to forget how young she is when a performance is this accomplished. Ms. Kwon was a sympathetic accompanist.
And so to the boys who gave us Poulenc’s La fraîcheur et le feu and Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. The Poulenc piece rather races along with the piano part, impressively played by Mayer, often much more interesting than the vocal line. Roy was at his best in the more hectic passages where his diction and command of French were at a premium. When the music became more expansive he didn’t quite seem able to expand with it; the voice lacking bloom in both upper and lower registers and with no real sense of some underlying power. This was more of a handicap in the Don Quichotte songs. Roy managed some decent physical and vocal acting, especially in the drinking song, but there just wasn’t enough heft to put in the swagger required in these pieces.
Prior to the performances, the COC’s Janet Stubbs made a short speech in memory of Stuart which managed, in a very brief span, to convey both the impact he had on the Canadian and wider opera scene and a sense of his more endearing eccentricities.
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is a work of astonishing power and unique provenance. It was written after Messiaen’s capture in June 1940 at the POW camp Stalag VIII-A in Görlitz in what is now Poland. First performed for POWs and guards in 1941 it is, most unusually, scored for piano, clarinet, cello and violin because that’s what the professional musicians among the POWs played. What always strikes me about this work, familiar since my early teens, is how it combines Messiaen’s transcendent and deeply optimistic faith with a kind of passionate statement about the state of the world rooted in Revelations. The contrasts are there throughout the work’s eight movements but nowhere more clearly than at the end when the power and even fury of Danse de la fureur pour les sept trompettes and the Fouillis des arcs-en-ciel, pour l’Ange qui annonce la fin du Temps dissolve into the lyrical serenity of Louange à l’immortalité de Jésus. And, of course, there is birdsong in the haunting clarinet movement Abime des oiseaux.
To Mazzoleni Hall yesterday to hear Christina Campsall’s graduating recital. I think over the course of the year she has become my “top tip” for this year’s graduating class at the Conservatory and nothing that happened yesterday did anything to shake that judgement. It was a pretty intense program that was definitely more shade than light but that, I think, rather suits her voice. The opening set, Mahler’s Rückert Lieder, was a case in point. Dark, brooding texts, dark, brooding music and a dark, brooding voice with plenty of power. We have a mezzo here not a second soprano! That said, her high notes are all there and there seems to be plenty of power all through the registers, though to be fait I’ve only seen her once in a large hall and that was in operetta. Very good German too with a distinct northern inflection. All the consonants!
Against the Grain’s Death/Desire opened last night at the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery. It’s structured around Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin cycle with the songs of Messiaen’s Harawi: Chants d’amour et de mort interpolated, though not in the usual order. Thus there are two characters; The Man, singing the Schubert; who is very much the conventional questing lover of 19th century poetry, and The Woman, singing the Messiaen (mostly) who is something very different from the young girl of Wilhelm Müller’s texts. The piece is staged with both characters on stage most of the time and interacting in ways that reflect the music and don’t.
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a preview of Against the Grain’s upcoming show Death and Desire. It’s a staged mash up of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin and Messiaen’s Harawi: Chant d’amour et de mort; a settong of texts, rather weird ones at that, by the composer. As director Joel Ivany said, mixing Messiaen and Schubert might seem “a bit bizarre” but these two texts seem to work together remarkably well and the juxtaposition seems almost inspired. I’m glad too that the original intention of performing the two pieces back-to-back has been replaced by a mash up. Today we got to see and hear the first half of the show.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre consisted of early works by Olivier Messiaen written for his wife, the violinist and composer Claire Delbos. The first piece was the Theme et variations for violin and piano of 1932. Like much of Messiaen’s music this piece represents two contrasting moods, likely rooted in Messiaen’s Catholicism. It’s either deeply meditative or ecstatic, almost manically so, with not much in between. It’s also very hard to play! Here it was presented with great skill and conviction by violinist Kerry DuWors and pianist Liz Upchurch. Continue reading →