Yesterday we got the second recital by the song fellows of the Toronto Summer Music Festival. In the week since the first concert they have been working with mentor Soile Isokoski and it showed in the programming. There was quite a bit of Strauss and more Finnish and Swedish music than I have ever heard in such a recital. Among other things this highlighted just how difficult Strauss songs are to sing well. They are exceedingly tricky yet have to sound absolutely effortless. Three of the four sopranos on show tried. None of them succeeded completely(*). So it goes. And so to the details.
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.
Toronto Summer Music Festival has two “apprenticeship” programmes; one for chamber musicians and one for singers and collaborative pianists. The latter is directed by Martin Katz and Steven Philcox. On Saturday afternoon in Walter Hall we got our first chance to see this year’s young artists. Eight singers and four pianists were on show. The singers were a mix of those who are well known to anyone who follows student opera in Toronto and newcomers. The pianists were all new to me.
The one thing Daniel Taylor did not explain in his introduction to The Coronation of King George II, presented by Toronto Summer Music Festival, last night was how on earth he, and whatever friends and substances were involved, came up with the concept. It’s not immediately apparent that interweaving some of the music from the 1727 coronation service with snippets from the liturgy while throwing in some earlier music that might have been used in earlier coronations and, to cap it all, Tardising in some Parry and Tavener makes any sense at all but in a weird way it did. There was even a real priest brought in to play the Archbishop of Canterbury (looking disturbingly like the Bishop of Bath and Wells) and an actor playing the king. Oddly it made for an hour or so of rather good music mixed with just enough levity to offset the mostly extremely lugubrious text of the liturgy.
Yesterday afternoon I went to see the UoT Opera program’s show Brush Up Your Shakespeare. It was substantially the same as the program they gave six months ago in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre so I ‘m just going to comment on changes of one kind or another.
There were a few extra numbers. Danika Lorèn sang the Poison Aria from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. It’s an interesting voice. There’s lots of power but maybe isn’t quite fully under control yet. Still, easier to refine a powerful basic instrument than get anywhere with a small one. One to watch. William Ford sang Macduff’s O figli mie! from Verdi’s Macbeth. That’s a pretty bold call for a student and he wasn’t bad at all. This time we also got a sort of catalogue raisonnée of the program from director Michael Patrick Albano with contextual information on each number.
Last night at Walter Hall, as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival, Chris Maltman and Graham Johnson gave a recital that explored the experience of war through song. It was a long and varied programme with twenty two songs in four languages commemorating most of the great empires that went to war in 1914 though many of the songs were from earlier periods. At the core of the programme were early 20th century settings of English pastoral poems. Butterworth’s settings of Houseman were there but, sneakily, we got Somervell’s much less well known setting of Think no more lad. In a similar vein there were Gurney and Finzi. The Americas were represented in a characteristically rambunctious Ives setting of a horribly jingoistic McCrae poem; He is there. McCrae may be the only well known war poet who managed to survive until 1918 without developing any sense of irony. Beyond the English speaking world there were songs by Mussorgsky, Mahler, Fauré, Schumann, Wolf and Poulenc.
Up and coming Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly was joined last night by veteran collaborative pianist Julius Drake for a program of chansons and lieder at Walter Hall. The 490 seat hall was almost full which is rather nice to see for a song recital in Toronto. The first half was devoted to chansons by Duparc, Ropartz and Ravel. I was struck by the restraint of Sly’s singing. It was conversational and not operatic at all but very expressive. I think that takes a lot of guts in a young singer. He let the words and music do the talking and didn’t exaggerate. This was perhaps best shown in the drinking song from the Don Quichotte songs of Ravel. He was very funny but sounded like a drunk, not somebody overacting the idea of a drunk. Continue reading