Today’s lunch time concert in the RBA was a lieder recital by two Ensemble Studio members; bass-baritone Gordon Bintner and tenor Andrew Haji. Both singers sang settings of texts by Heinrich Heine. Bintner, accompanied by Jennifer Szeto kicked off with selections from Schubert’s Schwanengesang to be followed by Haji and Liz Upchurch with Schumann’s Dichterliebe.
The Schubert was expressively sung with fine accompaniment from the piano. Besides revealing plenty of power Bintner showed that there is beauty in the voice when he lets up enough to show it off. This was especially evident in Ihr Bild which was lovely. He left the major dramatics for last with a highly emotional version of Der Atlas. It was impressive in a rather operatic sort of way. And that’s maybe where I might carp a little about an otherwise fine performance. It does seem to be the modern North American way to sing these songs operatically but I often find myself preferring a more traditional German approach. The drama is heightened if volume and passion are more strictly rationed I think. Maybe it’s a matter of confidence for a young singer but I heard enough today to know that Bintner could sound more beautiful and, ultimately, more dramatic if he throttled basck a bit more.
Haji and Upchurch’s performance of the Schumann was very impressive. There are sixteen songs in the cycle covering quite a range of moods and all were judiciously and skillfully interpreted. Haji certainly showed that he could do very intimate and conversational. Aus meinem Tränen sprießen was almost whispered to great effect. He can also go dramatic, as in Ich grolle nicht, without sounding the least Italianate. He can manage black humour too as a very fine version of Die alten bösen Lieder that concluded the cycle showed. Upchurch too showed great skill and delicacy in navigating the many moods of the piano part, again especially in the rather weird final song.
Quibbles aside this was a very impressive show. We really do have some very fine singers in the Ensemble at the moment (and the pianists to match them). Last word goes to the COC’s German diction coach. I don’t know who that is but he or she is doing a fantastic job.
Photo credits: Chris Hutcheson