My review of Philippe Jaroussky's Toronto début is on the Star's entertainment website this morning. You can check it out here.
To share the pleasure of last night's concert a little more, here is Jaourssky singing his encore aria, "Alto Giove" from the opera Polifemo, by Nicola Porpora, with Ensemble Artaserse in what looks a lot like the royal opera theatre at Versailles:
Last night, one week after singing his last performance as Orestes in the Canadian opera Company production of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, Rusell Braun stood on stage at Koerner Hall for an intense, all-Mahler programme that began with a performance of Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children) that I'll treasure for a long time.
Also on the program was Das Lied von den Erde (Song of the Earth). The accompanists were a chamber ensemble of strings, winds, piano, harmonium and percussion made up of the Smithsonian Chamber Players as well as Royal Conservatory of Music faculty and alumni. The chamber arrangements were crafted by American cellist Kenneth Slowick, in the spirit of Arnold Schönberg's short-lived, post-World War I Society for Private Musical Performances.
(Slowick conducted, wearing an eye patch. I was told that he almost didn't make it to the concert because of a detached retina, wasn't allowed to fly, and so drove up to Toronto from Washington D.C.)
The tenor for Das Lied was Thomas Cooley, who did a nice job, but who sounded strained negotiating some of Mahler's very difficult vocal leaps. Braun, however, was flawless, curling not only his gorgeous baritone but every nuance of possible expression around this arresting music.
After sitting through the concert, I think I prefer the chamber arrangements to Mahler's original full orchestration. The small number of people on stage, as well as the nakedness of each instrumental part further underlines the subject matter, of a person confronting the intense emotions and loss and the inevitability of all things coming to an eventual end, weighed against the eternally regenerative cycle of life.
The songs are written in such a way that the singer is a lone wanderer among the crowd of people and emotions, which are represented by the instruments. They all intertwine in a strange harmonic tangle and travel from dark to light and then back again.
(I imagined it staged as a chamber opera, with the orchestra members and singer moving around a lamplit sitting room with a view of mountains through a large window.)
There are many examples of fine music depicting the messiness of human life, but few pieces present it in as concentrated and highly defined form as Kindertotenlieder. I would have been content to simply hear those five songs performed again after intermission, to further savour the many, many layers of meaning and expression.
I could suggest something to listen to from YouTube, but am not going to. There's a very fine performance of Kindertotenlieder by Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, with conductor Lorin Maazel, from the 1960s, but it just doesn't have the same impact as what I heard last night.
I came home from my trip to find a yellowed piece of newspaper on the balcony. Someone had torn out the movie and concert ads for late January.
The big movie is Mae West's She Done Him Wrong, which was released in 1933. Two performances in one venue on Jan. 27th means that it was 1934, when this would have been a Saturday. (Sunday was the city's big day off, when, I'm told, Eaton's department store would pull drapes across its window displays so that people walking home from church on Sunday would not be tempted to think of worldly goods.)
Among the options at the Eaton Auditorium, the city's recital hall of record in the day, are: -Onegin "world premiere contralto" on Jan. 25, tickets $1, $1.50 and $2 -English Boy Choristers under conductor Carlton Borrow, Jan. 27 (25 to 75 cents) -Myra Hess "penomenal English pianist" on Jan. 27 ($1 to $2) -Ted Shawn "and Ensemble of Male Dancers" Jan. 29 (50 cents to $1.50) -Dusseau "brilliant soprano" on Jan. 31 ($1-$2)
The world's finest came to Toronto even during the Great Depression. Today, a few days of performing arts programming would include a wide age range among the artists. I was struck how all the grown-up performers from January 1934 were in their mid-40s.
I was also struck by how ephemeral the work of performing artists is. Even though these people lived at a time of reasonably good recording technology, very few people watch or listen to what they left behind.
Even though we think we are recording and archiving today's performing arts for future generations, for the majority of the audience, it naturally is the living artist who holds the greatest appeal.
So, the concert listing turned into an opportunity to sample a ghost's gallery of past greats.
*Let's start with Swedish-born, German contralto Sigrid Onégin (1889-1943), who should have been billed as the world's premier contralto.
Here she is singing the famous aria from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice:
*The English Boy Choristers were the touring group of the 125-student London Choir School, which supplied the capital city's churches with choristers from 1915 to 1958. It was a brilliant idea, ensuring that every (Anglican) church could have a well-trained treble or two -- someone who would grow up to be an asset among adult singers. The Church of England subsidized the Choristers' world tours.
*Ted Shawn (1891-1972) was a key figure in the modern dance movement in the United States, and the founder of the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, which inaugurated its 78th season yesterday. Shawn founded the festival the summer before his troupe's performance at Eaton Auditorium.
Here's a clip of some tame choreography by Ted Shawn: "Choeur Danse," from 1926:
*The reference to the brilliant soprano is for Jeanne Dusseau, born in Scotland in 1893 as Ruth Cleveland. She studied voice, married Quebec baritone Lambert Dusseau in 1919, and spent much time singing in Canada. One of her early accomplishments was being cast as Princesse Ninette/Orange No. 3 in the premiere of Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges in Chicago, in Dec. 1921. After retiring from the stage, she taught in New York City and Washington, D.C. I couldn't find a death date.
Here is one of only two pieces of music she ever recorded commercially, the "Easter Hymn" from Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, in 1939:
*The last performances goes to British pianist Myra Hess (1890-1965). There is a simplicity to her interpretations that makes her deep, deep artistry seem effortless.
The first piece is a clip with conductor Humphrey Jennings from a World War II film that includes one of her many morale-boosting performances at the National Gallery in London. I've followed it with a moving live performance of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 with Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic in 1951 (note how noisy the audience is during the opening minute and in the final movement).
The closing clip is of her own transcriptions of Bach and Scarlatti, recorded in 1958.
Last night, Sir Thomas Allen described "The Estuary," one of six song setting of poems by Ruth Pitter (1897-1992) by Michael Head (1900-1976) as 'The most perfect depiction of a river I've ever heard."
I had never heard the song, published in 1945, before, and found the interpretation enchanting.
When I got home last night, I did a bit of research and discovered that there's only one recording of it in existence in current CD catalogues: a 2002 EMI CD (no. 208285) with Jonathan Lemalu and pianist Roger Vignoles.
There isn't a hint of it on YouTube or anywhere else where I'd be able to plunder a copy to share here.
There's little of anything available from this prolific composer, who wrote in a spare, tonal style stuck somewhere at the turn of the 20th century.
I thought I'd reproduce "The Estuary" poem anyway, just because it's so right for a beautiful summer's day. A bit earlier in the recital, Alen had suggested Frank Bridge's 1911 four-movement orchestral suite, The Sea as a must-listen. So, to accompany the verse, here is conductor Sir Richard Hickox and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales from a 2002 Chandos CD (no. 10012).
The Estuary, by Ruth Pitter:
Light, stillness and peace lie on the broad sands, On the salt-marshes the sleep of the afternoon. The sky's immaculate; the horizon stands Steadfast, level and clear over the dune.
There are voices of children, musical and thin Not far, nor near, there in the sandy hills; As the fight begins to wane, so the tide comes in, The shallow creek at our feet silently fills:
And silently, like sleep to the weary mind, Silently, like the evening after the day, The big ship bears inshore with the inshore wind, Changes her course, and comes on up through the bay,
Rolling along the fair deep channel she knows, Surging along, right on top of the tide. I can see the flowery wreath of foam at the bows, The long bright wash streaming away from her side:
I can see the flashing gulls that follow her in, Screaming and tumbling, like children wildly at play, The sea-born crescent arising, pallid and thin, The flat safe twilight shore shelving away.
Whether remembered or dreamed, read of or told, So it has dwelt with me, so it shall dwell with me ever: The brave ship coming home like a lamb to the fold, Home with the tide into the mighty river.
This final video clip includes a personal favourite that Allen put on his programme last night: "My Own Country," the last of "Three (Hilaire) Belloc Songs," from 1927, by Peter Warlock, as sung by Benjamin Luxon (it's the third of the first three songs on this clip).
Everyone who attended the tribute concert to Maureen Forrester in Stratford yesterday received a lavish coffee table-worthy programme filled with background, anecdotes, written tributes and pictures commemorating a particularly generous life.
I didn't have a chance to look at it until I got home last night.
Among the many beautiful tributes inside is one from Colin Firth. I hope no one minds that I'm going to reproduce it here, in its entirety:
Maureen's son, Daniel, and I were roommates while studying acting at the Drama Centre in London in the early 1980s. When he first came to stay at my family home in Winchester, I decided to force a piece of music on him -- a piece by Frederick Delius that had enthralled me since I was a child. To my surprise, Danny recognized it immediately. Not the piece, but the voice. It turned out to be that of his own mother. He then checked the record sleeve and discovered that at the time of the recording his mother was pregnant -- with him. I'd spent years in love with the voice of the woman who was singing with my future friend inside her!
Daniel was subsequently adopted by my family and was in frequent demand as a holiday guest. This became a reciprocal arrangement and I came to experience Maureen's hospitality, her generosity, her formidable intelligence, her trust, her eccentricity, her candour, her experience and her wisdom. I stayed in her home on Lake Muskoka and to my delight the adoption exchange continued for some years. All that was missing in this wonderful new relationship was that I had never heard Maureen sing live.
That changed in 1986 when I was visiting some old friends in Missouri, and one of them excitedly mentioned that Maureen Forrester was singing Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde that evening in the university auditorium at the end of the street. That night, Maureen sang magnificently -- thrilling her audience, not only with her voice, but also with her wit, warmth and her mighty energy. Following the performance, I proudly took my friends backstage where she was surrounded by adoring fans. As I approached, I became somewhat concerned that -- out of context -- she might not recognize me immediately and there would be an awkward moment. I needn't have worried as the howl of delight and surprise, which she let out from across the room when she saw me, would have filled the Royal Albert Hall.
That may have been the last time we met. That cry of welcoming recognition is my abiding memory. From the same voice that had camptivated me onstage a few moments before and in my home as a child. All those things, as well as her words of advice and encouragement, are gifts I will always carry: her friendship, her acceptance, her voice, her family and my cherished lifelong friendhip with Daniel.
What could possibly go better with this than "One Charming Night," from Henry Purcell's Fairy Queen, as recorded by Forrester with the Vienna Radio Orchestra and conductor Brian Priestman:
One charming night Gives more delight Than a hundred lucky days: Night and I improve the taste, Make the pleasure longer last A thousand, thousand several ways.
Maureen Forrester would have turned 81 tomorrow, had she not died last June.
To make up for the long-overdue memorial tribute and to mark the big birthday, former CBC Radio 2 producer Neil Crory has literally pulled out all the stops, assembling a live and via-video collection of a who's who in the music works to pay homage to one of the great singers of the second half of the 20th century.
Stratford Summer Music and the Stratford Festival have organized a massive memorial at the Avon Theatre. It starts at 3 p.m. If you need more information, you'll find it here.
I fell in love with Brahms' Alto Rhapsody the first time I heard it, and I'm pretty sure the soloist was Maureen Forrester.
Here she is performing live with the Boston Symphony and conductor Seiji Ozawa (who had been music director of the Toronto Symphony previously) at the Tanglewood Festival in 1971:
Here's a translation of Goethe's poem:
But who is that, on one side? His track loses itself in the bushes; Behind him spring back The twigs together; The grass stands up again; The desert swallows him up.
Ah, who will heal the sorrows Of him for whom balsam turned to poison? Who drank hatred of men From the abundance of love! Once disdained, now a disdainer, He feeds secretly on His own worth, In unsatisfying selfishness.
If there is on your psaltery, O father of Love, one sound Acceptable to his ear, Refresh his heart with it. Open his overclouded gaze To the thousand springs Hard by him who thirsts In the desert.
Thanks to David Guion for suggesting "La nuite- froide et sombre" as a piece to distract us from oppressive summer heat.
So much of what is magnetic about Renaissance polyphony comes from the tension generated by the voices as their lines slide, rub and trip by each other. You don't even have to know what the words are saying to immediately get a sense of mood and atmosphere.
Imagine an vast, dark great room, one of those medieval rooms with a fireplace larger than a Toronto studio condo, with a cluster of friends and neighbours making music together after dinner.
The lyrics come from 16th century poet du Bellay, this 1576 setting for four voices is by Orlando di Lasso.
La nuict froide & sombre
Couvrant d'obscure ombre
La terre & les cieux,
Aussi doux que miel,
Fait couler du ciel
Le sommeil aux yeux.
Puis le jour luisant
Au labeur duisant,
Sa lueur expose,
Et d'un tein divers,
Ce grand univers
Tapisse & compose.
I'd translate it this way:
The cold, dark night Covers with sombre shadow Both earth and sky, As sweetly as honey It causes from the sky to pour Sleep into the eyes.
Then gleaming day Working its way along Turns up its beams, And with its many hues Furnishes and arranges This great universe.
It's funny how earbuds or earphones place the music inside our head, but we still don't feel like we're inside the music. Usually it still sounds as if it's being projected towards us, as in a traditional concert hall or from stereo speakers.
Vancouver composer Jordan Nobles has spent more than a decade experimenting with spatial effects in music, where the performers are placed around the audience, or in different parts of the space in which the performance is happening. For the most practical reasons, few composers think beyond the traditional performance configurations when writing music.
But hearing music all around is a bewitching experience, and it changes our relationship to it, and to the space. It also changes us.
The first time I employed this new technique in my own composition, I was fascinated by the behaviour of the audience. When the music began, at first people looked around, turning their heads this way and that and straining their necks to see the musicians surrounding them. After a while, they gave up trying to ‘see’ every musical entrance or event and sat still, many with eyes closed, and just listened. They were experiencing the novelty of being inside the music itself, instead of having it projected toward them. This is the way in which we experience sound in the real world of nature, as opposed to the world of today's media where sound and images are constantly projected uni-directionally at us from stages, screens and speakers. We are in the center of our environment; sound does not come from one direction but surrounds us completely. Unlike the eyes, the ears can hear all 360 degrees around no matter which way they are facing - and hey are always open. We experience spaces not just by seeing them but by listening. With your eyes closed, you can tell what type and size of room you are in. Our ears and brains developed with the capacity to process a depth of information through sound direction and reflection which is simply not possible in the conventional concert hall setting. In a sense, when we create a spatial music event, we are waking up areas of the brain that are too often neglected in our contemporary life.
Nobles is one of those composers who is not afraid to refer to familiar tonal/harmonic patterns in his music, making it particularly accessible to any audience.
CBC Radio Two's Concerts on Demand a couple of days ago added an excellent sampling of his work from a concert given by the Vancouver Cantata Singers, led by artistic director Eric Hannan at the Blusson Centre, a multi-level, oddly-shaped atrium-type space at Vancouver General Hospital (pictured at right).
Of course, the broadcast loses all sense of the spatial -- but the music itself is good, and well performed (except for the final piece, by Mendelssohn, in which the sopranos sound pretty ragged).
Besides three pieces by Nobles, there is one of Arvo Pärt's tintinnabulist wonders, a setting of the Te Deum, and Medusa, a fun little creation by fellow Vancouverite Kristopher Fulton.
Here is another one of Noble's choral experiments, Coriolis, in which he works on creating compelling dissonant vibrations. Being at the centre of the circle created by the members of Musica Intima in 2009 would likely be a brain-bending experience.
This is the fifth year in a row of June Sunday concerts at the Sharon Temple, a stone's throw beyond the northern limit of Hwy 404 at Green Line.
Initially, the artistic director was Stephen Cera. Now, the Music at Sharon series is co-led by Larry Beckwith and Rick Phillips, who have brought musicians entirely suited to this intimate, acoustically amazing wooden structure that feels like stepping into a time machine.
Over all this time, and despite my love of the Shaker-rustic meeting house, I've been to a single concert. And I suspect that the Sunday mid-afternoon time and the need for a drive all the way up to Newmarket (sometimes on weekends when the Don Valley Pkwy is closed), means that fewer downtowners have made treck than good intentions might suggest.
The fifth and final concert for 2011 happens at 2 p.m., today, as David Fallis's Toronto Consort presents a programme inspired by the plays of Shakespeare. The group's fame has spread considerably over the past few years, as it's supplied music for the TV ministeries on the Tudors and the Medicis. The Consort has performed together for a long time, and they bring polish as well as boundless enthusiasm to what they do.
For all the details, including directions, click here.
Here's the Toronto Consort singing something French, that translates, literally, as "The Dew of the Lovely Month of May," from the mid-16th century:
In preparing the short article on Anna Russell in today's Star, to go with this weekend's performances of Toad: The Anna Russell Story, I realised that what made Russell so funny -- and so popular -- was that she truly never had to make anything up.
Better still, some things don't change. Here's a section from her 1984 Farewell Concert tour where she describes the situation faced by anyone who wants to be an opera singer.
To illustrate her point with current real-world examples, following it is a clip of someone singing "Un bel di" and another avid vocalist rendering "Che gelida manina," for our listening pleasure. Both singers wisely decided to remain anonymous.
John Terauds started at the Toronto Star as a freelance writer in 1988, and has been on staff since 1997. He began writing on classical music in 2001, and has been the full-time classical music critic since 2005.
He is also the organist and choir director at St. Peter's Anglican Church, a parish founded in 1863 in downtown Toronto.
If he's not listening to, writing about or playing music, it means he's either asleep, unconscious, walking his dog -- or all of the above.
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