Vaughan Williams at the TSO

I went to Roy Thomson Hall last night to hear an all Vaughan Williams program conducted by Peter Oundjian.  It’s not really my thing but there was a fine quartet of soloists lined up for the Serenade to Music.

EIS, Huhtanen, DAngelo, Wiliford, Duncan (@Jag Gundu-TSO)

Things got going with the Fantasia on “Greensleeves” which was perfectly OK if a bit hackneyed.  There was a decent account of the Concerto for Oboe and Strings with Sarah Jeffrey as the soloist.  Then there was the Serenade.  For some reason the soloists were lined up with the choir (the Elmer Iseler singers) behind the orchestra.  The result was sonic mush and textual porridge.  I caught exactly one word of the text; “stratagems” for what it’s worth.  The rest was not recognisable as English, let alone understandable.  And, of course, it was too dark to read the supplied text.  This despite soloists; Carla Huhtanen, Emily D’Angelo, Lawrence Wiliford and Tyler Duncan, who are consistently excellent with text. This is becoming very annoying.  As often as not when I go to see the TSO do vocal works the soloists are either inaudible or incomprehensible.  I know the hall is difficult but the performance of the Ryan Requiem last week showed that it is possible to showcase singers.  I think it’s really unfair to audiences and singers alike.  Anyway, I was so fed up that I left at the interval.

Photo credit: Jag Gundu

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Cloud Light

Cloud Light CMCCD 22315 Cover Canadian Art Song Project has just issued its second CD; Cloud Light.  It’s a collection of four contrasting works by Polish-Canadian composer Norbert Palej.  The first, Three Norwegian Songs (2011) was composed for baritone Peter McGillivray, who sings them here. The settings are of English translations of Norwegian texts.  Maybe it’s because the texts are translations or maybe because this seems the most American/Broadway inflected piece on the disk I found it the least effective but, as we shall see, it has serious competition.  In any event Peter sings it very well even when it goes cruelly high. Continue reading

Comfort ye my people

‘Tis the season to Hallelujah in Toronto and Handel’s Messiah is everywhere.  Last night was the first performance of the biggest of them all, the Toronto Symphony and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir at Roy Thomson Hall.  Traditionally this is Toronto’s equivalent of John Barbirolli and the Huddersfield Choral Society so I was surprised to see a set up for a rather small orchestra.  In fact about thirty instrumentalists were used, playing modern instruments of course, with about 150 choristers.  It was something of a sign of things to come as conductor Grant Llewellyn took us through the piece quite briskly and rhythmically with even some ornamentation in the da capo repeats.  It’s becoming more common I think for conductors to get something approaching an HIP sound out of a modern orchestra as we’ve seen with Harry Bicket  in various opera houses.  The orchestra and chorus responded pretty well to the less staid approach with the sopranos sounding particularly spritely and incisive.

TSO Messiah_Allyson McHardy (Malcolm Cook photo) Continue reading

Upcoming worthy causes

elizabethkNovember 17th sees the second annual Elizabeth Krehm memorial concert.  It’s at Metropolitan United Church at 8pm and will feature Beethoven’s 9th sympony.  The soloists will be Rachel Krehm, Erin Lawson, Adrian Kramer and Jeremy Bowes with the Canzona Chamber Players and a choir drawn from the Univox Choir and friends of the Krehm family.  Evan Mitchell conducts.  Admission is by tax receiptable donation to St. Michael’s Hospital where Elizabeth spent the last month of her life.

On 28th November, at Runnymede United Church a starry cast are donating their services for a charity performance of Bach’s Weinachtsoratorium.  The beneficiaries will be the Toronto Symphony Volunteer Committee Education Program  and Open Table Community Meal at Runnymede United Church.  Johannes Debus will conduct the Bach Consort with soloists Monica Whicher, Vicki St. Pierre, Lawrence Wiliford, Colin Ainsworth and Russell Braun.  Tickets are $50 in advance or $60 on the door.

Moving into October

October is the month things usually really get going again in Toronto and this year is no exception.  The calendar for the first third of the month is very busy.  Highlights include three free concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, the opening of two productions at the Canadian Opera Company and Nuit Blanche events at the Canadian Music Centre and the UoT Music Department.

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Ash Roses release concert

mireille The Ash Roses CD that I referred to a few days ago was officially launched at the Canadian Music Centre last night.  Lawrence Wiliford, Mireille Asselin, Sanya Eng and Liz Upchurch performed all the music on the album in the presence of the composer and his wife, assorted Toronto music glitterati and even more assorted others, like me.  It’s a very intimate setting and well suited for small scale art song recitals; especially when the complimentary wine and beer (Black Oak Chocolate Cherry Stout – recommended) is rather good.

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Ash Roses

ashrosesThere’s some pretty exciting news from the Canadian Art Song Project (CASP).  It’s their first commercial CD release featuring Ash Roses; songs for Soprano and Tenor by Derek Holman. The artists are soprano Mireille Asselin, tenor Lawrence Wiliford, pianist Liz Upchurch and harpist Sanya Eng. This is the first recording entirely dedicated to the songs of Canadian composer Derek Holman; one of the very few who have made art songs an important component of their output.

There is a CD release party on March 7th at the Canadian Music Centre (20 St. Joseph St., Toronto) and the program for the evening will include The Four Seasons, Ash Roses, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal and Three Songs for High Voice and Harp.  Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 on the door, $20 students. More details can be found about the CD and the release party at www.canadianartsongproject.ca