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’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.
So the Toronto Summer Music Festival continued last night with a Shakespeare themed show called A Shakespeare Serenade. Curated and directed by Patrick Hansen of McGill it fell into two parts. Before the interval we got Shakespeare scenes acted out and then the equivalent scene from an operatic adaptation of the play. After the interval it was a mix of Sonnets and song settings in an overall staging that was perhaps riffing off The Decameron. Patrick Hansen and Michael Shannon alternated at the piano.
I usually only review CDs on first release but I came across one on the weekend that I need to rave about. I guess it’s not exactly a secret that I’m a huge fan of early 20th English art song. So, when I found a CD with most of favourites sung by one of my all time favourites it was pretty much bound to be a hit. It’s a 20 year old recording by Bryn Terfel and Martin Martineau and it’s called The Vagabond and other songs. The disc includes Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel, Finzi’s Let Us Garlands Bring, both of Butterworth’s Housman cycles and three settings of John Masefield texts by John Ireland. The young Bryn’s voice is a touch lighter than today but it’s still a brooding dark thing though with delicacy enough for, say, Is my team ploughing? Martineau is a most skilled accompanist and the recording, made in Henry Wood Hall, is very good indeed. I can see this getting played a lot!
So it’s early November and a recital titled Songs of Remembrance. One might of expected something like the program Chris Maltman presented just down Philosophers’ Walk last year but no, Monica Whicher and Rachel Andrist’s program was gentler. Dare we say “more feminine”? This concert was about remembrance of childhood and love; happy and not so happy. Framed by Roger Quilter’s settings of Blake we got two “concocted cycles” drawn from very diverse sources; English, French and German texts; art song and popular song; composers from Schubert to Richard Rogers and Hans Eisler. It was effective.
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.