Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured Russell Braun and Caolyn Maule in a generous and varied program anchored on Schumann’s Dichterliebe; a setting of sixteen poems by Heine. It was framed by three Mendelssohn songs and a varied and intriguing second half program.
Russell is a singer at the height of his powers. He has a lovely instrument and perfect control of pitch, dynamics and tone colour. He’s also a sensitive and musical human being. Throw all that at text and music as rich as Dichterliebe and the result is inevitably quite wonderful. One could just luxuriate in an emotional journey through the highs and lows of romantic love and a physical one up and down that magical river, the Rhine. The Mendelssohn was rather lovely too.
This is an interesting CD. It couples the rather rarely performed Schubert cycle to texts by Sir Walter Scott with a new Fiona Ryan cycle on the same theme. The reason the Schubert is a bit of a rarity is that, besides high and low voice and piano, one number requires a female chorus and another a TTBB quartet. In fact here those two pieces were recorded separately in different locations but I don’t think it’s apparent listening to the disc. The Schubert also includes the well known Ave Maria, the sixth song in the cycle, given here in the German originally used by Schubert rather than the Latin version usually heard. It’s a very decent performance. Maureen Batt is the soprano (and the evil genius behind the whole enterprise). Her voice is light and clear and her diction is excellent. Even a piece like the Ave Maria sounds fresh. Jon-Paul Décosse is the baritone. It’s a firm, confident voice, again with every word clearly audible. Simon Docking provides excellent accompaniment. The Bootgesang is performed by Leander Mendoza and Justin Simard; tenors with Robert O’Quinn and James Levesque; baritones, again with Docking at the piano. This might be the most fun piece of the cycle. For the elegiac Coronach we get The Halifax Camerata Singers conducted by Jeff Joudrey with Lynette Wahlstrom at the piano. They sound very pleasant.
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!
May continues to be a busy month. There are a couple of interesting concerts at noon in the RBA next week. On Wednesday 17th there is the unveiling of the annual Canadian Art Song project commission. This year it’s extremely ambitious. It’s a cycle of sixteen songs by Ana Sokolović setting texts drawn from right across Canada. It’s called dawn always begins in the bones and will be performed by Danika Lorèn, Emily D’Angelo, Bruno Roy and Aaron Sheppard with Liz Upchurch at the piano. (You can also hear this work in the Temerty Theatre at the Conservatory at 7.30pm on Thursday May 25th along with Andrew Staniland’s Peter Quince at the Clavier and Lloyd Burritt’s Moth Poem). On Thursday 18th tenor Charles Sy and pianist Hyejin Kwon bid farewell to the COC Ensemble Studio with a performance of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. It should be a real treat.
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.