Last night, at Walter Hall, Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski and pianist Martin Katz gave a recital as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. The programme of Schumann, Wolf, Strauss and Sibelius was an object lesson in restraint and elegance. There were no histrionics or gimmicks, just very fine, subtly expressive singing and brilliantly supportive pianism.
Today’s RBA recital was Allyson McHardy and Rachel Andrist in a program called Women on the Edge. What we got was a sampler from what will eventually be a longer show. First up was Schumann’s Poèmes de Marie, Reine des Écossais. It’s a very late Schumann work and, I think, one of his best vocal works. But there’s some history here. Schumann set German translations of five poems by Mary in French plus a Latin prayer Mary’s Latin is very classically elegant). The original French was subsequently rearrranged by Bernard Diamant for Maureen Forrester and that’s the version Allyson sang today. But wait, there’s a snag. The second piece Après la naissance de son fils is a bit of an anomaly. There is no French text by Mary Stuart or anyone else. The text is Scots and probably not by Mary at all. Some sources suggest it was actually graffiti in Edinburgh castle. How/why did Diamant render it into French? Who knows. Scholarly quibbling aside these are really gorgeous works and beautifully suited to Allyson’s voice. She has a really beautiful voice and it seems to be gravitating to contralto territory as she (tries desperately to find appropriately not ungallant phrase). Anyhow it was very fine.
The third concert in the Heliconian Hall series from Adanya Dunn, Brad Cherwin and Alice Hwang was titled Intersections and was designed to explore “the sphinx like mind of Robert Schumann” through his own music and music inspired by him. First up was Kurtàg’s Hommage à Robert Schumann featuring Alice and Brad and guest violist Laila Zakzook. This is a complex and difficult piece. Some sections consist of short fragments of “conversation” between the instruments. At other times there is a more obvious line and it varies in mood from extremely violent to almost lyrical. It’s an interesting exploration of Schumann’s various musical personalities through a completely different sound world.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured mezzo Lauren Eberwin, soprano Danika Lorèn and pianists Hyejin Kwon and Stéphane Meyer. Lauren and Hyejin were first up with Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben. I’ve rarely seen this sung by a singer so obviously “in” the story. There was a real sense of first person storytelling as well as rather good singing. I thought Lauren sounded surprisingly sopranoish in the first seven numbers but they are optimistic and happy and a bright coloured voice seems apt. She certainly darkened it nicely for the final grim song. Hyejin was a most sympathetic partner.
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.
It was my first time seeing Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel live and my expectations were high. They were met, possibly exceeded, but not perhaps in the way I expected.The singing was brilliant across a wide spectrum of moods and genres (I’ll come back to that) but what really stood out was the man’s rapport with the audience which was extraordinary. It’s really hard to describe but let me try with just one example. It’s that thorny issue of people applauding for ages in the middle of sets. The usual approach is to have some functionary come out and announce that “Herr Poffel-Woffel respectfully (huh) asks that the audience not applaud until the end of the set because he believes it spoils the atmosphere”. Bryn’s approach was to wait for the first time it happened, gently shh the audience and announce “I don’t mind at all if you applaud every song but we’ll all get a home a lot earlier if you wait until the end of the set”. There was a lot of that kind of thing and it seemed quite natural and not at all stagey.
American tenor Russell Thomas, currently singing Don José in the COC’s Carmen, gave the lunchtime recital in the RBA yesterday. The main item on the program was Schumann’s Dichterliebe; a setting of sixteen poems by Heinrich Heine and one of the great test pieces of the classic German lieder repertoire. It was a red-blooded, operatic account. Purists might think too much so but I enjoyed the sheer power and beauty of it, even at the expense of the (incredibly wonderful) text not getting the sort of attention it might get from someone like Ian Bostridge. There was plenty of variation of tone and colour, some real virtuosity and even some humour in, for example, Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen but the the most impressive and striking thing was the ability to effortlessly project a lot of rather beautiful sound. Liz Upchurch’s accompaniment was very much in synch emotionally and musically.