Last night the Talisker Players and guest artists presented a series of readings and vocal pieces on the theme of winged creatures. It was a very varied programme with the readings, winningly read by actor R.H. Thomson, ranging from Albert Manguel to Peter Matthiessen. The readings also provided time for the set-up to be changed between numbers with minimum tedium.
The music was also very varied, ranging from Telemann to John Plant’s Sandpiper of 2011 with the rest being drawn from 20th century works from Pärt, Copland, Hoiby, Gideon and Foss. The ensemble changed constantly with various combinations of strings, woodwind, piano, continuo and percussion.
Two works in particular captured for me the spirit and the strengths of the evening and , as it happens, were the concluding pieces. Telemann’s Trauermusik eines kunsterfahrenen Canarienvogels is an ironic piece about the death of a Canary. It was sung by mezzo Vicki St. Pierre with strings and continuo. It played well to the power and range of colour of Vicki’s voice and to her considerable ability to act with the voice. She has enough skill in that area to perhaps get by with less in the physical acting department than we got last night but that, I guess, is largely a matter of taste. Accompaniment by the taliskers was exemplary.
Lukas Foss’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by contrast is a very modern piece. It’s written for soprano; here Erin Bardua, piano, flute and percussion. The percussionist spends most of his time working inside the piano so there’s an element of “prepared piano” in their too. The range required from the soprano is quite wide from whispering to high, extended phrases, some of it echoed by tape delay. Similar demands are placed on the flautist (Anne Thompson) who got a most unusual range of sounds from the instrument. It was very effective and perhaps of all the night’s pieces the one that most evoked the idea of birdsong.
So, a well constructed and performed programme on a defined theme which is probably what one needs to do to get an audience for art song in Toronto at the moment. It’s playing again tonight at Trinity St. Paul’s at 8pm.