Soile Isokoski in recital

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.

isokoskikatz

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The Hungarian-Finnish connection

Stephen HegedusThe last Songmasters concert of the season featured a selection of works that sorta kinda had a Finnish or Hungarian connection.  The first part of the prgram featured songs by Sibelius, all but one to Swedish texts, and piano pieces by Selim Palmgren, whose music sounds like a sort of cross between Debussy and Sibelius.  The songs were sung Stephen Hegedus with plenty of power and quite a bit of subtlety.  We had been told he was quite ill but one wouldn’t have known it.  Fine, delicate work at the piano by Robert Kortgaard.   Continue reading

Call of Dutilleux

I suppose it’s a bit odd to go out to a symphony concert on a cold night out of interest in one twenty minute piece on the program but that’s what I did last night.  The item of interest was Henri Dutilleux’ Correspondances and the attraction was that the soloist was Barbara Hannigan.  It’s an unusual piece.  The five texts include, conventionally enough, three poems; two by Rilke and one by Prithwindra Mukherjee.  The two longer texts are letters; one from Solzhenitsyn to the Rostropoviches and one from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother.  The music is atmospheric and covers a wide range of moods from ecstatic to despairing.  It’s heavy on percussion and makes considerable demands on the vocal soloist.  Parts of it lie very high and it really needs the exquisite attention to each syllable of the text that is Hannigan’s trademark.  Little shifts in the vowels, the occasional drop into something approaching Sprechstimme and so on.  I thought the TSO and Peter Oundjian were really quite impressive here too.  The piece got the clarity and transparency it needs.  That said, it’s one of those pieces that few people, I think, will fully appreciate on one hearing.  Fortunately there is a very good recording of Hannigan singing it with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Barbara Hannigan, Peter Oundjian 2  (Malcolm Cook photo)

The piece was bookended by Sibelius’ Swan of Tuonela and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique.  The Sibelius was extremely well played with some lovely playing in particular from the cor anglais.  The Berlioz isn’t a piece I much care for and both of us were a bit under the weather so we skipped out after the Dutilleux.  If you missed last night’s performance it’s on again tonight at 8pm.

Photo credit: Malcolm Cook.

Northern Landscapes

Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was a recital of Nordic art songs given by students from the University of Toronto’s music programme.  The musical line up could certainly have been chosen for more variety.  With the exception of some Sibelius at the end it was all a bit “Grieg and his buddies greatest hits”.  This was rather reinforced by MC Steven Philcox’s rather prolix introductory remarks on each composer which can be summed up as as:

X was born into a wealthy family in Stockholm/Oslo/Copenhagen in 1840/50/60 and despite his father’s wish that he study law/medicine/for the Diplomatic he decided on a career in music and studied composition in Berlin/Dresden/Leipzig.  His music was influenced by Swedish/Danish/Norwegian folklore.  He wrote lots of stuff including no less than 200/400/800 songs for voice and piano

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