Songs in Time of War

musicgardenThe season finale for the Music Garden this summer was a performance of Alec Roth’s Songs in Times of War.  These are settings of poems by Du Fu translated by Vikram Seth.  Du Fu was a Chinese court poet who lived through times (8th century CE) when millions died or were displaced by rebellion and civil war.  Although more allusive than direct (most of the time), the poems are grim but have an elusive beauty which is reflected in Roth’s setting.  Originally scored for tenor, guitar, harp and violin we got to hear a new version (by the composer) with violin replaced by erhu; a two stringed bowed instrument.  Tnere’s no doubt in my mind that the erhu adds a really effective cross-cultural timbre that the violin version can’t quite match.

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Late August/early September

Ifallcolourst’s still pretty quiet but there are some things still going on:

August 16th to 20th, the National Ballet has free performances at Harbourfront incorporating a number of partners and an eclectic mix of dance styles.  Details.

August 28th at pm in the Music Garden at Harbourfront Lawrence Wiliford and PhoeNX Ensemble are performing Alec Roth’s Songs in Time of War.  This one is free and outdoors so “weather permitting”. Continue reading

Another Day

The latest commission from the Canadian Art Song Project is Another Day by Abigail Richardson-Schulte.  It’s a setting of six poems by schoolchildren on the theme of refugees and human rights.  It’s now available on video performed by soprano Anna-Sophie Neher with Carl Matthieu Neher at the piano.

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Elora Festival opening concert

The first of three concerts from the Elora Festival was webcast last night.  It opened with a nicely produced video of the Elora singers performing Jonathan Dove’s In Beauty May I Walk which was followed by Lawrence Wiliford and Lucas Harris performing sings for lute and tenor.  The lute was a weird and wonderful thing combining the usual strings with a longer theorbo like section totalling 12 courses and 23 strings.  The  music was all from the 17th century (as best I can tell) ranging from well known names like Purcell and Blow to others like John Beck who are likely only familiar to specialists in this rep.  Anyway, it was beautifully done and makes one wish that this material would be performed more often.

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Lutheran Masses

The final concert of this year’s Toronto Bach Festival at Saint Barnabas Anglican Church featured two of the little performed Latin masses written for Leipzig (or possibly for Count Franz Anton von Sporck of Lysá.  Sources vary).  In any event they are unusual for liturgical music.  Based on previously written cantatas for the most part, they incorporate elements not much seen in church music.

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Fourth Annual Toronto Bach Festival

bachtbfThe fourth annual Toronto Bach Festival runs May 24th to 26th.  There are four concerts and a lecture.  Here’s the line up:

Friday, May 24th at 8pm – Brandenburg Five

The program includes two cantatas: the early Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, and Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, plus Julia Wedman as soloist in Bach’s Concerto in A minor for violin. A brilliant night of illuminating music.  Soloists for the cantatas are Hélène Brunet, Daniel Taylor, Nick Veltmeyer and Joel Allison.  John Abberger directs the Toronto Bach Festival Orchestra.

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Vaughan Williams at the TSO

I went to Roy Thomson Hall last night to hear an all Vaughan Williams program conducted by Peter Oundjian.  It’s not really my thing but there was a fine quartet of soloists lined up for the Serenade to Music.

EIS, Huhtanen, DAngelo, Wiliford, Duncan (@Jag Gundu-TSO)

Things got going with the Fantasia on “Greensleeves” which was perfectly OK if a bit hackneyed.  There was a decent account of the Concerto for Oboe and Strings with Sarah Jeffrey as the soloist.  Then there was the Serenade.  For some reason the soloists were lined up with the choir (the Elmer Iseler singers) behind the orchestra.  The result was sonic mush and textual porridge.  I caught exactly one word of the text; “stratagems” for what it’s worth.  The rest was not recognisable as English, let alone understandable.  And, of course, it was too dark to read the supplied text.  This despite soloists; Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan, who are consistently excellent with text. This is becoming very annoying.  As often as not when I go to see the TSO do vocal works the soloists are either inaudible or incomprehensible.  I know the hall is difficult but the performance of the Ryan Requiem last week showed that it is possible to showcase singers.  I think it’s really unfair to audiences and singers alike.  Anyway, I was so fed up that I left at the interval.

Photo credit: Jag Gundu

The Far West

The+Far+WestThis review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.

Zachary Wadsworth’s The Far West is a setting for tenor, chorus and strings of texts by poet/priest Tim Duglos, who died of AIDS in 1990. These are very personal and curiously optimistic texts. In G-9 for example death is described as “a great adventure” that will end “in just the right place”. Only in Parachuteis there much in the way of anger. Here AIDs is “an insatiable and prowling beast with razor teeth and a persistent stink”

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Cloud Light

Cloud Light CMCCD 22315 Cover Canadian Art Song Project has just issued its second CD; Cloud Light.  It’s a collection of four contrasting works by Polish-Canadian composer Norbert Palej.  The first, Three Norwegian Songs (2011) was composed for baritone Peter McGillivray, who sings them here. The settings are of English translations of Norwegian texts.  Maybe it’s because the texts are translations or maybe because this seems the most American/Broadway inflected piece on the disk I found it the least effective but, as we shall see, it has serious competition.  In any event Peter sings it very well even when it goes cruelly high. Continue reading

Comfort ye my people

‘Tis the season to Hallelujah in Toronto and Handel’s Messiah is everywhere.  Last night was the first performance of the biggest of them all, the Toronto Symphony and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Roy Thomson Hall.  Traditionally this is Toronto’s equivalent of John Barbirolli and the Huddersfield Choral Society so I was surprised to see a set up for a rather small orchestra.  In fact about thirty instrumentalists were used, playing modern instruments of course, with about 150 choristers.  It was something of a sign of things to come as conductor Grant Llewellyn took us through the piece quite briskly and rhythmically with even some ornamentation in the da capo repeats.  It’s becoming more common I think for conductors to get something approaching an HIP sound out of a modern orchestra as we’ve seen with Harry Bicket  in various opera houses.  The orchestra and chorus responded pretty well to the less staid approach with the sopranos sounding particularly spritely and incisive.

TSO Messiah_Allyson McHardy (Malcolm Cook photo) Continue reading