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.
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.
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.
Todays concert in the UoT’s Thursdays at Noon series at Walter Hall was given by baritone Giles Tomkins, soprano Elizabeth McDonald, pianist Kathryn Tremills, clarinettist Peter Stoll and cellist Lydia Munchinsky. The music they played was sometimes in familiar combinations of players and sometimes very much not. Hence the title.
Last night’s TSO concert was billed as a Tribute to Maureen Forrester with Ben Heppner MCing. Inevitably the main even was Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde but first there was a sesquie and the premiere of a new piece; L’Aube, for mezzo and orchestra by Howard Shore (he of Lord of the Rings etc). This was a setting of five poems by Elizabeth Cotnoir. It was retro, lush, tonal and, in a sense, well crafted but with very little variation between the movements, all of which were very slow. Susan Platts rich mezzo added to the rather soporific effect. Call me an unreformed modernist if you like but I’m really not sure what a piece like this adds to the symphonic repertoire.
There must have been a lot of cash slopping around in the music world in Mahler’s day. Imagine taking a new work to a symphony management today and saying “I’ve got this hour and a half long piece that needs a star mezzo and three choirs for about ten minutes. Fancy giving it a shot? Oh and it needs a bazillion players in the brass section.” Anyway that’s Mahler’s 3rd symphony for you and the TSO did it last night with Jamie Barton as soloist and the ladies of three choirs plus a children’s chorus. All in all it had far too much of the Mahler I don’t much care for; repetitively bombastic, and not enough of the kind I do; the bits with a kind of ethereal transcendent beauty. And it really goes on a bit. The last movement in particular has so many climaxes, and anti climaxes, that, at the end, the audience weren’t sure that it was really, finally over. I’ll take the 2nd or the 8th or one of the shorter pieces over this one anytime.