Baritone Quinn Kelsey, currently singing Germont père in La Traviata at the COC stepped down off the big stage today to give a recital, with Rachel Andrist at the piano, in the more intimate RBA. As befits the venue, he gave us a more intimate program. Ralph Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel and the less frequently heard Gerald Finzi cycle, Let Us Garlands Bring sandwiched three songs by Brahms.
The Vaughan Williams is a pretty well known work, almost a recital warhorse. Kelsey showed considerable sensitivity in, mostly, dialling his big voice back for it. He is extremely expressive, occasionally I thought maybe just a touch too much so, and he has a surprisingly wide range of colours at his disposal. The contrast between the light, bright tone he used for The Roadside Fire and the much darker (and louder) approach to Youth and Love was quite striking. And that’s just an arbitrary comparison of two songs that follow one another. The rest of the set was equally varied. This guy is a lot more than “just” a big, Italianate Verdi baritone! And Rachel Andrist is so much more than “just” an accompanist. She brings a complimentary personality to every song with some real detail in the piano part that makes it seem quite fresh.
The Brahms was an interesting contrast. The three songs; Alte Liebe, Feldeinsamkeit and Von ewiger Liebe seemed quite retro against the Vaughan Williams; perhaps harking back to Schubert rather than ushering in the modern. Actually I really like them and this may mean I’m warming up to Brahms. My membership of the pissy French intellectual club is likely in danger. What struck me about Kelsey’s performance here was his sheer range; from very low indeed to rather high for a baritone, all with apparent ease and evenness. he may not have the floatiest high ppp I have ever heard but he’s pretty impressive.
The Finzi was new to me. It’s a 1942 setting of five songs by Shakespeare and it’s quite lovely and very varied. It covers quite a range of moods from Fear No More the Heat of the Sun to Who is Silvia?, which gets a very bright, bouncy treatment, especially in the piano part. It’s almost jazzy whereas Fear No More is sombre with some extraordinarily spun out lines that Kelsey managed flawlessly. Do not engage in a breath holding competition with this man!
By way of encore Kelsey gave us what he claims is the only Puccini aria he’s ever allowed to sing Questo amor, vergogna mia from Edgar. Apparently it’s about love and Hungarians or something and it’s quite Puccini and a very nice vehicle for the side of Quinn Kelsey we are more used to hearing.
Londoners can hear Quinn Kelsey at Wigmore Hall on November 11th where his program will include Let Us Garlands Bring. Torontonians don’t have to wait as long to hear Rachel Andrist who is performing at the Royal Conservatory on Sunday with Monica Whicher in a program called Songs of Remembrance.
Photo credit: Kevin Lloyd