Americans in Paris

There Toronto Summer Music Festival, inevitably Americas themed this year, opened with a concert called Americans in Paris featuring music by Copland, Gershwin and Bolcom.  It was a pretty mixed bag.  It opened with Copland’s Appalachian Spring played by 13 members of the TSMF Ensemble and conducted by Tania Miller.  It’s not a work I’m particularly fond of but here it was particularly unfocussed and soporific.

Photo-by-Mat_Dunlap-1155-COPY_edited-12Next up was Measha Brueggergosman and Steven  Philcox with songs by all three composers.  This was my main reason to be there and I wasn’t thrilled.  Steven was great throughout, particularly in the Copland setting of Emily Dickinson’s Nature but I’m just not sure I get the Brueggergosman brouhaha.  It’s a pleasant enough light, bright soprano with a bit of a fluttery top end but miles away from the sort of smoky sound that many African American sopranos produce in jazz/blues influenced music.  Why she should be thought a “natural” for Porgy and Bess or A Child of Our Time is musically beyond me.  Kind of like casting Larry Brownlee in Verdi’s Otello because, you know…  I did like her witty take on the Bolcom cabaret songs though, even if the words weren’t what one might call distinctly audible.

Novacek-high-res-After the interval we got Copland’s clarinet concerto with a bravura performance by soloist Yao Guang Zhai.  His solos were impressive but, honestly, the rest could have been bottled and sold as a tranquillizer.  The highlight of the evening was the last piece.  It was that old chestnut Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but given here in the 1926 arrangement for theatre orchestra.  This had a raw energy that might not be to everyone’s taste but I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially after what had come before.  Top marks too to pianist John Novacek who looked and sounded like something out of a Warner Brothers cartoon.  One half expected him to have to keep catching the keyboard and putting it back in place.

A bit of a curate’s egg really.

O yeah. I got introduced to the very down to earth and undivaish Soile Isokoski.  I wasn’t planning to go to the masterclass she was giving this morning but I did.

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