The final concert of the year involving members of the Ensemble Studio took place yesterday in the RBA. First up were Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon with Britten’s Les Illuminations. This is a formidable challenge for both singer and pianist and we were treated to a performance of real intensity and maturity. Charles seemed to be sufficiently in technical command of the material to let himself go a bit and have some fun with the more ironic bits of Rimbaud’s rather extraordinary text. His French diction was more than good enough for this, even in the places where the notes pretty much fall over themselves. There were some very pretty sounds where needed and real intensity, particularly in Parade. Hyejin was excellent too. The piano part is no mere support in this piece. It’s challenging and demands real partnership with the singer. All in all, it was a performance that made one forget that these two have only been in the program for a year.
The second half of the program paired Karine Boucher and departing pianist Jennifer Szeto in Ravel’s Shéhérazade. This is a much gentler, more reflective, piece than the Britten and it was very expressively sung with a fair bit of drama in the places where the text supports that. In fact, from that point of view, it was one of the more expansive performances I’ve heard from Karine. And, as always, she produced some very lovely singing. Jenn was her usual excellent and sympathetic self at the piano but the Ravel doesn’t have the showy pyrotechnics of the Britten.
So, a very satisfying hour of music though part of me would have preferred the order to have been reversed. But, it was Jenn’s final show and so, fittingly, she got the last notes.
Photo credit: Kevin Lloyd Photography.