I’ve seen Francis Poulenc’s monodrama La voix humaine many times and always find it troubling despite that the fact that it is often a vehicle for rather good performances. I was intrigued then by VOICEBOX’ decision to present alongside the Jean Cocteau play on which the opera is based. It really helped me get to grips with what I find uncomfortable about the work.
We went to a recital of French and Mexican vocal music at Heliconian Hall yeaterday. It was given by soprano Renée Bouthot and pianist Ana Cervantes. Far the most interesting part sof the programme were the Mexican pieces. Federico Ibarra’s 1988 setting of Tres Canciones by Lorca was really fine. The three pieces were quite varied. Canción has a complex piano part, an interesting vocal line and quite playful interaction between the two. By no means always to be found in modern art song. Canción de Cuna has a less interesting, kind of scoopy vocal line but a really virtuoso piano part while the final Canción de la muerte pequeña blends a wildly percussive piano part with dance rhythms in the vocal line. All three texts are really interesting too.
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.
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.
Chelsea Rus is a recent graduate of the Schulich Scool of Music at McGill University and winner of the Wirth Vocal prize. Today, along with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone, she gave a recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. I like that it was all song bar the opening number; “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Hearing young singers belt out the same few Mozart and bel canto standards gets a bit tedious. Anyway this was one of those recitals that started quite well and just got better as things progressed. Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire are, I suppose, a bit of fluff but they allowed Chelsea to show off a rather lovely middle voice and good French diction, though the registers are still not fully integrated. Even better was Liszt’s Oh! quand je dors. Here she showed just how expressive she can be.
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.
The Academy Program is an important part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. It allows selected young artists; singers, collaborative pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians, to work with experienced professionals in an intensive series of coachings, masterclasses etc culminating in a concert series. This year the mentors for the vocal/collaborative piano component were pianist Craig Rutenberg, who has worked everywhere and with everybody, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; a last minute replacement for an indisposed Anne Schwannewilms. I didn’t make it to any of the masterclasses, though word on the street is that they were exceptional, but I did make it to yesterday’s lunchtime concert in Walter Hall.
Poulenc’s La voix humaine is a monodrama for voice and rather large orchestra based on a play by Jean Cocteau. There’s just the one character “Elle” and all we, the audience, hear, is one end of a telephone conversation between Elle and her, recently, ex-lover. It’s a highly emotionally charged piece and not easy to pull off. Last night, Christina Campsall and Brahm Goldhamer presented it in piano arrangement at Mazzoleni Hall with Oliver Klöter directing. It’s a piece that needs directing too as, in a sense, not a lot happens. It’s just a telephone call!
It’s another pretty busy week. There are two student shows today, both free. At 2.30pm in the MacMillan Theatre there’s a performance of a new opera based on EM Forster’s The Machine Stops. It’s by Patrick McGraw, Robert Taylor and Steven Webb. Sandra Horst conducts and Michael Albano directs. Then at 8pm in Mazzoleni Hall, Christina Campsall is performing Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine with Brahm Goldhammer providing piano accompaniment.
So it’s early November and a recital titled Songs of Remembrance. One might of expected something like the program Chris Maltman presented just down Philosophers’ Walk last year but no, Monica Whicher and Rachel Andrist’s program was gentler. Dare we say “more feminine”? This concert was about remembrance of childhood and love; happy and not so happy. Framed by Roger Quilter’s settings of Blake we got two “concocted cycles” drawn from very diverse sources; English, French and German texts; art song and popular song; composers from Schubert to Richard Rogers and Hans Eisler. It was effective.