Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming. There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital. Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well. They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless. Three of the four sopranos on show tried. None of them succeeded completely(*). So it goes. And so to the details.
Last night, at Walter Hall, Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski and pianist Martin Katz gave a recital as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. The programme of Schumann, Wolf, Strauss and Sibelius was an object lesson in restraint and elegance. There were no histrionics or gimmicks, just very fine, subtly expressive singing and brilliantly supportive pianism.
Yesterday I finally managed to do something bike related in conjunction with Bicycle Opera Project’s current tour of Sweat. I got an early train out to Aldershot, biked to Hamilton and joined up with the bike tour of historic Hamilton organised by the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre to complement the opera, before seeing the afternoon performance of Sweat at WAHC. I’ll add some bikey/historical observations at the end but since this is an opera blog let’s cut to the chase.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists. The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists. Eight singers and four pianists were on show. The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers. The pianists were all new to me.
The St. Lawrence String Quartet opened this year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival with a really interesting programme. They kicked off with the Haydn String Quartet No. 25 in C Major. This very much belied the idea that Haydn is a skilful but not especially inventive composer. It’s full of invention; especially rhythmic and really suited the intensely physical style of the St. Lawrences; especially the hyperkinetic first violin, Geoff Nuttall, who also contributed a rather extraordinary pair of socks to the evening’s festivities. Watching, too, is a different experience from listening and here pointed up the extent to which chamber music like this is a conversation between the players rather than a regimented or choreographed thing.
Opera 5’s double bill of Ethel Smyth one acters, Suffragette, opened last night at Theatre Passe Muraille in productions by Jessica Derventzis. The second piece, The Boatswain’s Mate, was in every way the more successful of the two. It’s a straightforward enough story. Mrs. Waters is a widow and landlord of The Outlaw (renamed in deference to the production’s beer sponsor). She is being very unsuccessfully courted by retired boatswain Harry Benn. Mrs. Waters doesn’t want or need a husband but Benn decides that by enlisting a casual acquaintance, the former soldier Ned Travers, as a fake burglar from whom he can “rescue” the hapless landlady. Much mayhem ensues but the upshot is that Mrs. Waters takes a shine to the hunky soldier and they, at least, live happily ever after.
The Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and their conductor, Vladimir Spivakov, played Roy Thomson Hall last night. The first part of the concert was all instrumental and rather fine. I was struck by the small band’s ability to vary the weight and richness of their sound to match the mood of the music. Their treatment of Mozart’s Divertimento No.1, for example, was quite lean and sinewy. On the other hand the string sound, especially the cellos, was much richer in a very moving and idiomatic account of the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony in C minor. Things got even richer for Bruch’s Kol Nidrei where the orchestra was joined by 14 year old Israeli cellist Danielle Akta. The orchestral sound was sumptuous here but the real star was Ms. Akta. One expects virtuosity from the sort of young musician who tours with a major orchestra but one does not necessarily expect the kind of intensity that we got from Ms. Akta. She played as if she had the sort of life experience one would simply not wish on a young girl. Her instrument, an Orselli loaned by Dr. Moshe Kantor, was rather wonderful too. She can do virtuoso too as she showed in the Popper Concert Polonaise that closed a very satisfying first half.