The Canadian Art Song Projects sesqui commission premiered today in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s a piece by Ana Sokolović for soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone and pianist and today, as was always intended, it got its first outing from members of the COC Ensemble Studio. It was billed as a “song cycle” and, while it’s certainly a setting of poems to music, that description really doesn’t do it justice. Sokolović’s music always seems to have dramatic potential and here that was realised extremely effectively by Anna Theodosakis to create a piece of performance art with many dimensions.
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.
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.
British baritone Christopher Purves was the lunch special at the Four Seasons Centre today. Along with the amazing Liz Upchurch he gave us a most enjoyable program of Handel, Duparc and Mussorgsky. The two Handel arias were drawn from Handel’s two very different takes on Ovid’s Acis and Galatea. The first from the later (1718) English version “I rage, I melt, I burn!… O ruddier than the cherry tree” is a mostly comic furioso recitative and aria sung with great drama and not a little comedy by Chris but it was rather eclipsed by the next number taken from the earlier (1708) Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. Polyphemus’ aria “Fra l’ombre e gl’orrori” is just nuts but very beautiful. It ranges from the D below the bass staff to the A above it and is a continuous series of insane intervals accompanied by a really simple and very beautiful piano part. It’s amazing anybody can sing it all let alone as well as it was done here.
Yesterday’s lunchtime concert in the RBA featured two members of the Ensemble Studio. Andrew Haji, standing in for an indisposed Charles Sy, and Jennifer Szeto performed Liszt’s Tre Sonetti di Petrarca. These songs were unfamiliar to me and came as a pleasant surprise. They are very Italianate and very operatic and have a pretty involved piano part (unsurprisingly). Haji displayed his uncanny ability to find exactly the right idiom for the music and sang with beauty and expression as well as nailing the three high D flats. Szeto was a most accomplished accompanist. Great dress too! New Yorkers can catch these two in the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration at Carnegie Hall on Saturday where they will perform the same music.
The on/off saga of the Ensemble Studio’s promised Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared came to an apparent conclusion yesterday. It had been postponed at least once and even this morning the COC website is advertising a complete performance with two soloists and a small chorus.
It didn’t happen. What we got was a recital by Owen McAusland singing some excerpts from the Janáček plus Vaughan William’s The House of Life and Britten’s Les Illuminations. It was his last performance as a member of the Ensemble Studio during which time, among many other things, he sang several main stage performances as Tito covering for a sick Michael Schade.
This morning I went to the COC website to see what Josh Hopkins would be singing at lunchtime. Bottom line, he wasn’t. His recital had been replaced by a hastily put together program of pieces to be sung by Owen McCausland, Karine Boucher and Aviva Fortunata. Given that Liz Upchurch said it was pieces they were looking for an audience for I’d guess it’s audition/competition rep that they are working on and therefore, to some extent, work in progress.