Layla Claire is one of a handful of young Canadian singers making something of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with major roles in Glyndebourne, Zürich, Toronto and Salzburg and an upcoming Pamina at the Met. Her debut recital CD Songbird, with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, was recently issued on the ATMA Classique label. It’s an interesting and varied collection of songs though never straying very far from familiar recital territory. It’s tilted towards French (Gounod, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Bizet) and German (Wolf, Strauss, Brahms, Liszt) repertoire but there’s also Quilter, Barber, Argento and Britten (the comparatively rare Seascape which is, oddly, omitted from the CD liner).
The Thursday concert at UoT yesterday was a recital by Joel Allison and Mélisande Sinsoulier, respective winners of the Norcop song prize and Koldofsky prize in accompanying. It was a very satisfying performance. Loewe’s Tom der Reimer set the tone with fine singing from Allison and quite inspired pianism from Ms. Sinsoulier. Allison displayed power and agility plus an ability to sing quite elegantly when required though perhaps he does occasionally “push” the drama a bit further than the text really needs.
Today’s noon recitalists in the RBA were Andrew Haji and Liz Upchurch. We had been promised Britten’s Serenade but an absence of non-knackered horn players due to the COC’s Götterdämmerung run scuppered that and instead we got a very varied program of songs and arias on the theme of love and its travails. Four Brahms songs kicked things off and produced some very fine lieder singing. Beautiful throughout with fine phrasing, characterisation and diction there was more. The final “wonnewoll” of Wie bist du, meine Königin was a thing of floaty beauty and there was a real sense of ecstasy in Mein Liebe ist grün.
The Academy Program is an important part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. It allows selected young artists; singers, collaborative pianists and chamber/orchestral musicians, to work with experienced professionals in an intensive series of coachings, masterclasses etc culminating in a concert series. This year the mentors for the vocal/collaborative piano component were pianist Craig Rutenberg, who has worked everywhere and with everybody, and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke; a last minute replacement for an indisposed Anne Schwannewilms. I didn’t make it to any of the masterclasses, though word on the street is that they were exceptional, but I did make it to yesterday’s lunchtime concert in Walter Hall.
The last Songmasters concert of the season featured a selection of works that sorta kinda had a Finnish or Hungarian connection. The first part of the prgram featured songs by Sibelius, all but one to Swedish texts, and piano pieces by Selim Palmgren, whose music sounds like a sort of cross between Debussy and Sibelius. The songs were sung Stephen Hegedus with plenty of power and quite a bit of subtlety. We had been told he was quite ill but one wouldn’t have known it. Fine, delicate work at the piano by Robert Kortgaard. Continue reading
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.
This was a really interesting morning. The TSMF runs a “fellow” program for singers and collaborative pianists and this morning, as part of that program, there was a masterclass with Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski. There were eight singers and four pianists with seven German songs (Strauss, Schubert and Wolff) and one in Finnish prepared (and preparing a Finnish piece for an Isokoski masterclass reminds me of that Youtube thing of the kitten walking down a line of Alsatian guard dogs). It was classic masterclass format. Each singer sang their piece and then went over fine points; diction, legato, phrasing, breathing, emotion, colour, at Ms. Isokoski’s direction. It was fascinating.