Voice of a Nation is a Métis inspired collection of works that has been touring Ontario as part of the Canada 150 thing. Last night the Toronto leg of the tour happened at Grace Toronto Church. There are three pieces in the program. Different Perspectives is a setting by Ian Cusson of a text synthesized from the sometimes surprising reactions of a group of young people asked “what Canada meant to them”. It was designed to be sung by community choirs on the tour and last night was given by three (uncredited) female singers accompanied by the thirteen player Toronto Concert Orchestra under Kerry Stratton.
I went to Walter Hall last night to see a couple of Mahler works in chamber reduction played by the Faculty Artists Ensemble conducted by Uri Mayer. I think I like Mahler in chamber reduction a lot. With one instrument to a part complex textures become clearer. No doubt there are conductors that can produce that clarity with a big orchestra but there are also, sadly, too many who reduce it to a grisly stew of unidentified body parts. It also allows singers to be heard without screaming. The only time I want to hear a tenor sounding like a goat being slaughtered is in that Dean Burry piece. I guess chamber reduction might not work for, say, the 8th Symphony but for the orchestral song cycles, the 4th Symphony, and, I’d hazard a guess, the 2nd Symphony I like it just fine.
I think I may have been missing out a bit with the Toronto Consort. I’ve been to the odd show that’s been identifiable as music theatre such as their excellent Play of Daniel but until I sat down with David Fallis and Laura Pudwell a few weeks ago I didn’t really have a clear sense of what they are about. Last night’s concert, Renaissance Splendours, at Trinity St. Paul’s, gave me a pretty good idea of what I’ve been missing and how it fits into my musical universe.
The Glenn Gould School’s fall opera production this year is Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel given in Brent Krysa’s English language, highly condensed version, originally created for the COC Ensemble Studio School Tour. It really is condensed. There’s no chorus and it comes in at just over the hour mark. The main plot elements are retained but I think quite a bit of the darkness, and most of the religiosity, are gone, though the latter isn’t eliminated entirely. After all, the Evening Prayer and the final chorus are musical highlights and pretty much have to be there. It doesn’t leave any room for the director to explore ideas like child abuse or addiction and pretty much forces, for better or worse, a straightforward emphasis on the basic story.
Danceworks 40th anniversary show opened at Harbourfront last night. Now contemporary dance isn’t really my thing but I was invited in part on the assumption I’d write about the music. Fair enough but I thought we could do better than that so I asked my partner Katja, who has at least some dance in her background to guest review. She has done this in rather more detail than I might have expected so what follows is basically her work. I have added a few comments, mostly about the music, and I have made it clear where it’s me talking. It would be obvious anyway as I am, as the good lady points out, a “grumpy old bastard”. Over to Katja…
Last night was the fifth concert in memory of Rachel Krehm’s sister Elizabeth. This year it was held in the rather cavernous and imposing Christ Church Deer Park, an Anglican church at Yonge and St. Clair. The concert opened with an elegiac piece for strings written by Jean Coulthard for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Then Rachel gave us a beautiful and moving account of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. Um Mitternacht(*) is a particular favourite of mine and seemed especially fitting here. It was the full orchestral setting with Evan Mitchell conducting his extraordinary orchestra. They were back after the break for a thoroughly compelling account of Tchaikovsky’s great sixth symphony Pathétique. What’s remarkable is that this isn’t an orchestra that has a permanent basis. It’s a group of musicians who come together for these concerts and make great music on modest rehearsal time. It’s especially impressive that these things always seem to happen in huge churches with churchy acoustics rather than a concert hall and they still sound terrific. As in previous years, this was a fund raiser for the ICU at St. Mike’s and once again it looked like mission accomplished as there was a very decent audience in the church.
Barbara Hannigan made her much anticipated Koerner Hall debut last night in an all German program accompanied by Reinbert de Leeuw. The first half of the program consisted of three sets; Schoenberg’s Vier Lieder Op. 2, Webern’s Fünf Lieder nach Gedicten von Richard Dehmel and Berg’s Sieben Frühe Lieder. All of these cycles were composed between 1899 and 1907 and there are many similarities. They are highly lyrical and essentially tonal and they mostly set poetry of a fairly pastoral nature. It would be churlish to complain about a performance of the utmost artistry (by both performers) of important works that likely no-one else would program in a major Toronto recital. That said, it was all quite lovely but it was a bit samey. Occasionally, especially in the Webern, some slightly different moods would emerge e.g in the third stanza of Ascension where it gets a bit more dramatic or in Heile Nacht, where there are echoes of Perrot Lunaire, but generally it was all rather in one place musically and emotionally.