Yesterday’s free concert in the RBA featured four members of the Ensemble Studio. Megan Quick and Stéphane Mayer gave us Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen followed by Sam Pickett and Rachel Kerr with Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. The first set was interesting in that I was so engrossed by Stéphane’s playing that at times I almost drifted away from the singing. He really is a bit remarkable. Few collaborative pianists have that effect. Megan continues to develop as a singer. She has a big, dark mezzo that’s actually so operatic I’m not sure it’s heard to best advantage in lieder with piano accompaniment. Still, she’s developing interpretive skills and her German diction has improved out of all recognition in the past eighteen months. It’s now very good. She took the first song, Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit, really slowly but had the control to pull it off and there was some real lyricism in Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz.
Yesterday’s RBA concert was titled Celebrating the Invictus Games. Now the Invictus Games is a sporting competition for athletes disabled on military service. It has royal patronage and has clearly become part of the official pageantry of celebrating all things military, as witnessed by the presence of the Lieutenant Governors of Ontario and Alberta at yesterday’s concert. For me it raises all kinds of questions about why we put the military on a pedestal and how we do it and that is very tied up with the choice of rep at a concert like yesterdays. I’ll come back to that at the end of this piece, after reviewing what we actually heard.
Yesterday at noon we had the traditional season opening performance by the COC Ensemble Studio in the RBA; the Meet the Young Artists concert. There were two new singers and a new pianist joining six members returning from last year. First up was Danika Lorèn with Deh vieni non tardar. I think I’ve run out of new things to say about Danika. It’s all there; a very easy upper register, interesting colours and a growing degree of artistic assurance. I just want to see her on the big stage. Stéphane Mayer was at the piano with his usual sympathetic elegance. He really is rather good!
After the usual summer hiatus the Toronto music scene starts to get back into gear in the coming week. Tonight there’s the final concert of the Fall Baroque Academy at Trinity College Chapel. It features excerpts from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. It’s at 7.30pm and it’s free.
There are two Ensemble Studio lunchtime concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Tuesday is the traditional “Meet the Artists” gig where everyone gets to do an opera aria and Wednesday celebrates the Invictus Games. It’s a predictably war themed program with the expected like Butterworth (good) and Ives (the appalling He is there) and the less expected with works by Somers and Argento among others. Both concerts are at noon and free.
Today we said goodbye to Charles Sy and Hyejin Kwon as members of the Ensemble Studio. They went out on a high note (indeed quite a few high notes….) with a very fine performance of Schubert’s epic cycle Die schöne Müllerin. Charles was in fine voice for the whole 65 minutes or so. He was delicate and floaty where he needed to be and fierce when warranted. It was lovely and text sensitive and proof, if anyone still needed it, of what a fine singer he has become in the last couple of years. Hyejin was equally accomplished. The limpid delicacy of the intro to Wohin was just gorgeous but she also summoned up real power and volume when needed. She was, as always, tremendous fun to watch. We writers tend to focus on the singer and not give due weight to the pianist’s contribution. Today we were reminded of how wrong that is.
I hope both of them stick around the Toronto scene and I look forward to seeing them in future endeavours. Thanks guys!
The Canadian Art Song Projects sesqui commission premiered today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s a piece by Ana Sokolović for soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone and pianist and today, as was always intended, it got its first outing from members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was billed as a “song cycle” and, while it’s certainly a setting of poems to music, that description really doesn’t do it justice. Sokolović’s music always seems to have dramatic potential and here that was realised extremely effectively by Anna Theodosakis to create a piece of performance art with many dimensions.
Yesterday’s lunchtime recital in the RBA featured three current members of the COC Ensemble Studio. First up was tenor Aaron Sheppard making his adieux with Finzi’s A Young Man’s Exhortation; a setting of texts by Thomas Hardy. It’s an interesting cycle; quite spare with, despite its lack of density, an intricate piano part that reveals some interesting chromaticism. The vocal line calls for great delicacy and control with occasionally injections of power. We got all that in a very fine performance by Aaron, and by Stéphane Mayer at the piano. It was probably the best performance I’ve heard from Aaron. He’s always had a rather beautiful, but perhaps too delicate voice. Here the control, phrasing and emphasis was all there but so was some oomph when needed. His performance was very true to the texts which have that same quality that Houseman exudes; Merry England with Death just peeking in from around the corner when one least expects it. Good stuff.