Barbara Hannigan and Reinbert de Leeuw

Barbara Hannigan made her much anticipated Koerner Hall debut last night in an all German program accompanied by Reinbert de Leeuw.  The first half of the program consisted of three sets; Schoenberg’s Vier Lieder Op. 2, Webern’s Fünf Lieder nach Gedicten von Richard Dehmel and Berg’s Sieben Frühe Lieder.  All of these cycles were composed between 1899 and 1907 and there are many similarities.  They are highly lyrical and essentially tonal and they mostly set poetry of a fairly pastoral nature.  It would be churlish to complain about a performance of the utmost artistry (by both performers) of important works that likely no-one else would program in a major Toronto recital.  That said, it was all quite lovely but it was a bit samey.  Occasionally, especially in the Webern, some slightly different moods would emerge e.g in the third stanza of Ascension where it gets a bit more dramatic or in Heile Nacht, where there are echoes of Perrot Lunaire, but generally it was all rather in one place musically and emotionally.

Hannigan at Koerner

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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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Songbird

songbird - coverLayla Claire is one of a handful of young Canadian singers making something of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with major roles in Glyndebourne, Zürich, Toronto and Salzburg and an upcoming Pamina at the Met.  Her debut recital CD Songbird, with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, was recently issued on the ATMA Classique label.  It’s an interesting and varied collection of songs though never straying very far from familiar recital territory.  It’s tilted towards French (Gounod, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Bizet) and German (Wolf, Strauss, Brahms, Liszt) repertoire but there’s also Quilter, Barber, Argento and Britten (the comparatively rare Seascape which is, oddly, omitted from the CD liner).

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Puzzling Così

The 2013 production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte from Madrid’s Teatro Real is one of German film director Michael Haneke’s comparatively rare forays into opera.  Naturally I was expecting a highly conceptual interpretation but, although his vision is far from conventional, Konzept found I not.  What I saw was a collection of ideas that didn’t quite cohere for me.  Costume and sets are a mix of 18th century modern.  We are in Don Alfonso’s inconsistently modernised mansion.  There are enormous 18th century paintings and chandeliers but also leatherette banquettes and the Giant Fridge of Booze.  The boys and girls wear contemporary party attire, including a rather fetching red dress for Fiordiligi, but Don Alfonso is in full 18th century gard and Despina seems to be dressed as Pierrot.  Perhaps it’s some sort of party where some of the guests have decided to do the costume thing and some haven’t?  When the boys go off to the army they do so in some sort of distant past opera version of military uniform; wigs and swords.

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From Severn to Somme

maltmanLast 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.

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Philippe Sly and Julius Drake at Walter Hall

Phillippe-SlyUp 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

Fifty shades of Braun

russellThis afternoon’s Off Centre concert at the Glenn Gould Studio was structured around three pairs of composer friends; Mozart/Haydn, Schumann/Brahms and Wolf/Mahler.  It was a mix of lieder, opera excerpts and piano pieces and was pleasantly varied.

Things kicked off with Russell Braun singing a number of songs from Schumann’s Liederkreis accompanied by his partner, Carolyn Maule on the piano.  This was maybe the third time that I’ve heard Russell in recital and he really is impressive.  He has a really good command of a wide range of dynamics and tone colour and lovely floaty high notes.  If I was being hyper critical I’d say I think there’s a point in the middle voice though that can’t quite sustain the volume he sometimes tries to get.  He has quite an operatic approach to lieder (compared to, say, DFD) but that’s quite fun in its own way.

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