Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a song recital with an Oriental(ist) theme by polyglot soprano Miriam Khalil and pianist Topher Mokrzewski. It kicked off with the two Suleika songs by Schubert to texts by Marianne von Willimer. For my taste Miriam’s voice and treatment of the songs was decidedly on the dramatic side. It was interesting and there’s no doubting the commitment but it’s not my favourite way to hear Schubert. It was all uphill from there though. Ravel’s Shéherazade; Debussy inspired music to texts by Tristan Klingsor, was given an equally dramatic treatment, and Miriam is very dramatic in both voice and body language, but here it worked for me, especially the passionate invocation of the invented East in Asie.
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.
Lauren Eberwein and Rachel Kerr put on a rather different show in the RBA at lunchtime. The musical component consisted of Ravel’s Jeu d’eaux and Messiaen’s Poèmes pour Mi. The surprise was that Lauren painted on a canvas on the floor throughout the performance. She brought on two palettes of acrylics and used her hands and feet to create a large abstract on the broad theme of “water”. Needless to say, she ended up covered in paint.
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.
Phillip Addis, currently one of two Papagenos at the COC, together with pianist Emily Hamper, gave yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA. First up were Ravel’s settings of Jules Rénard’s Histoires Naturelles. These are quirky, fun pieces with sometimes quite complex, impressionistic piano lines. They seemed well suited to Addis’ full, characterful baritone and his obvious zest for comedy. The text twists and turns both linguistically and as narrative calling for acute timing in places, which Addis delivered.
The second set was Waypoints; four songs by Erik Ross to texts by Zachariah Wells (both of whom were present). The first piece, Broken was being given for the first time. The texts are interesting and bear rereading. The settings, often repeating phrases over an over, I found a bit uneven. They are essentially conventional and tonal ranging from the rather fierce setting of the second song, I, to almost Broadwayish in the final number, Waypoints. They are pleasant enough pieces and they got a sympathetic treatment from Addis and Hamper but I’ve heard a lot more interesting Canadian art song.
The performance finished up with an arrangement by Hamper of the lullabye, The Rainbow Connection. Again pleasant but not very substantial. Which, I suppose, was my overall reaction to the concert.
The TSO’s season opener on Wednesday night featured Renée Fleming in one of her rare visits to Toronto. As one might expect for a crowd friendly season opener it was largely a collection of “lollipops” though the all Ravel first half of the program perhaps had higher ambitions. The orchestra kicked off with Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso; a rather vulgar piece full of castanets, twiddly Spanish tunes and solo bassoon standing in for a clown. I guess one could at least say that Peter Oundjian and the orchestra were well into the spirit of the thing. It was followed up with Schéhérazade. I’m not sure what the score markings on this are… perhaps “très langueurezzzzz”. It was a very Renée performance with beauty of tone (even in the soprano killing acoustic) dominating over drama or diction (though again I’m cognisant that the hall swallows words). It was a bit understated and I heard comments in the interval from people less well seated than myself that “they couldn’t hear a thing”.
The final concert of the year involving members of the Ensemble Studio took place yesterday in the RBA. First up were Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon with Britten’s Les Illuminations. This is a formidable challenge for both singer and pianist and we were treated to a performance of real intensity and maturity. Charles seemed to be sufficiently in technical command of the material to let himself go a bit and have some fun with the more ironic bits of Rimbaud’s rather extraordinary text. His French diction was more than good enough for this, even in the places where the notes pretty much fall over themselves. There were some very pretty sounds where needed and real intensity, particularly in Parade. Hyejin was excellent too. The piano part is no mere support in this piece. It’s challenging and demands real partnership with the singer. All in all, it was a performance that made one forget that these two have only been in the program for a year.