George Benjamin’s latest opera Lessons in Love and Violence debuted at Covent Garden last year. It was broadcast on the BBC and is still available on the web from Arte and has also been released on DVD and Blu-ray. This review is based on the Blu-ray version.
Sirènes is an album of pieces by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović. The first pice, which gives the album its title, is written for six unaccompanied female voices. It’s performed here by the vocal ensemble of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre conducted by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The six ladies in question are Danika Lorèn, Shannon Mercer, Magali Simard-Galdès, Caitlin Wood, Andrea Ludwig, and Krisztina Szabó. It’s an interesting piece and very Sokolović. The text is bent and twisted into sound fragments which are “sung” using an array of extended vocal techniques. The overall effect is of a shimmering, fluttery and quite absorbing sound world.
This year’s featured composer in UoT’s New Music Festival is Toshio Hosokawa. Last night saw performances of two of his one act operas in Walter Hall in productions by filmmaker Paramita Nath, with the composer in the hall. The first was a monodrama setting of Poe’s The Raven featuring Kristina Szabó and a student ensemble conducted by Gregory Oh. It’s an interesting piece. Hosokawa’s sound world combines the European avant-garde with Japanese elements so it’s unlike anything I’ve heard from a North American composer. It’s dramatic and atmospheric and works really well with fevered nature of Poe’s text. He also writes well for the voice with a variety of demands from whispering, through speech to full on singing. All of this coped with admirably by Szabó who, as ever, seemed perfectly at home with whatever the composer threw at her.
Yesterday the lemur and I ventured out to Roy Thomson Hall for Tafelmusik’s Singalong Messiah. I did this with some trepidation. There were reasons for this. First, I’m not a great sight reader; I sorta, kinda get by but I’m much more comfortable in the middle of a group of better singers that I can key off. But there’s the rub, I’m a tenor. I did this gig before in 2003 and there were like a million sopranos and seven tenors. See first point. It ain’t happening.(*). Finally, I had been fighting a cold/cough all week and feared that my voice would be better suited to Aristophanes than Handel. Fools tread boldly etc.
How to present a mostly forgotten composer to a modern audience is an interesting conundrum. Reviving a four hour opera seria about Marcus Aurelius likely isn’t the answer and just sticking a few pieces in an otherwise mainstream program is unlikely to have much impact either. Better by far, I think, is the approach Ivars Taurins has taken in Tafelmusik’s current run of concerts of music by the Venetian Agostino Steffani (1654-1728) at Trinity St.Paul’s.
Last night’s early evening free “shuffle” concert at Heliconian Hall featured Krisztina Szabó and Stephen Philcox. They started out with Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras; a lively collection of Spanish songs featuring scenes from Cuban life. The songs, very much French influenced, varied in mood from quite sombre to wild and were presented with skill and wit. The main event though was the reprise of two works that Philcox and Szabó premiered in March at Walter Hall; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan and Four Short Songs by John Beckwith. I reviewed that March performance here and really don’t see any reason to revise my opinion about the works or the performances except to note that last night, of course, Krisztina sang all the Beckwith songs.
Last night, at Walter Hall, the Canadian Art Song Project presented their latest commission; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan. The overall standard of the CASP commissions since Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox launched the endeavour has been very high. The Ryan piece maintains that.