Schubert could write great melodies and he had a real affinity for the voice so one might expect him to have been successful when he turned his hand to opera. He wasn’t with Fierrabras which wasn’t performed until decades after his death and has been revived seldom since, most recently at Salzburg in 2014 where it was recorded. It’s easy to see why. The libretto is awful and even if the music were really amazing, which it isn’t but more of that later, I doubt it would have made much impact.
Schubert’s Winterreise is sometimes described as the Everest of lieder singing and, as such, is something of a rite of passage for baritones. It’s much rarer to hear it sung by a soprano but today, on a day when there was more snow in Toronto than one encounters these days on the Hillary step, Adrianne Pieczonka, accompanied by Rachel Andrist, offered it up in the intimate Mazzoleni Hall. It took me two or three songs to get into it. The colours of the soprano voice are so not baritonal that the music sounded unfamiliar and disconcerting. By Der Lindenbaum though I was won over. Here was singing of a limpid beauty few baritones could match and from then on I was revelling in the new perspectives that hearing a soprano sing this music brings. I think it was greatly helped by Adrianne’s approach which definitely favoured bringing out the drama and the emotion of the text rather than wallowing in beautiful tone. That was there when she wanted it but there was much else besides. It was an emotional roller coaster from the (relative) optimism of Die Post through to the devastating last couple of numbers. By the end of Der Leiermann I was a puddle but possibly not quite as damp and deep as the critic sitting next to me (whatever Twitter might report). Rachel’s work at the piano was equally illuminating. This is a show they need to take to a much larger audience.
Having been tipped off that yesterday’s RBA noon concert was to be a vocal recital rather than, as previously billed, a chamber concert I made the trip through the snow to catch it. Three of the Royal Conservatory’s Rebanks fellows were singing with Helen Becqué at the piano and assorted staff and alumni added for the final number. Attendance was a bit sparse perhaps unsurprisingly given the weather and the evident confusion. That was a shame because it was an interesting, varied and well presented concert combining well known works with some much less well known fare.
Lineage, performed last night at the Heliconian Club, is the latest show from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang who brought usEvolving Symmetry in September. Lineage featured German music from Schubert to Rihm so much more in my sweet spot than the French theme of the earlier show. It was intriguingly constructed with three sets each of a pieces from Mendelssohn’s Lieder Ohne Worte and a Rihm song setting. In between we got first Berg and then Webern, Schoenberg and Schubert. It sounds bizarrely eclectic but the contrast between quite experimental pieces and more obviously accessible fare was very satisfying. Also the sense that there is both a thematic unity and a tendency to experiment in a lot of German music regardless of period.
Chelsea Rus is a recent graduate of the Schulich Scool of Music at McGill University and winner of the Wirth Vocal prize. Today, along with pianist Marie-Ève Scarfone, she gave a recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. I like that it was all song bar the opening number; “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. Hearing young singers belt out the same few Mozart and bel canto standards gets a bit tedious. Anyway this was one of those recitals that started quite well and just got better as things progressed. Poulenc’s Fiançailles pour rire are, I suppose, a bit of fluff but they allowed Chelsea to show off a rather lovely middle voice and good French diction, though the registers are still not fully integrated. Even better was Liszt’s Oh! quand je dors. Here she showed just how expressive she can be.
American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, 2013 winner of Cardiff Singer of the Year, sang at Koerner Hall last night with veteran Bradley Moore at the piano. Her first set; Joaquin Turina’s Homenaje a Lope de Vega gave us a pretty good idea of the basic value proposition. She has a fantastic instrument. There is power to burn, a pleasing dark tone, accuracy and musicianship. She never sounded remotely strained even while pushing out a very impressive sound. The rest of her first half programme; Chausson’s Three Melodies and four of Schubert’s Goethe settings showed that there was more than just a big accurate voice. Basically, it’s all there. She can vary colours and scale vibrato up and down. There’s some agility. She can float quiet high notes and she can tell a story. Her diction was clear in all three languages. I would say at this point the only question mark I had was around her ability to engage the audience. If I were to judge by the very highest standards, and I’m think Bryn Terfel or Karita Mattila, there was something just the merest shade cold and technical. The second half would see whether she could, as it were , lighten up a bit.
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.