La Scena Musicale

Friday, 30 July 2010

Summer Delights: Concerts This Week around the GTA

Photo: Matthias Goerne makes a welcome return to Toronto after an absence of several years.

Summer is usually a quiet time musically in Toronto, but not any more. Since my return from music-rich Munich on Monday, I have been attending a performance every day in TO. Tuesday was the Matthias Goerne-Andreas Haefliger recital at Koerner Hall, a highly anticipated event for voice aficionados. Wednesday morning was the Goerne Masterclass at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, and last evening was a chamber recital with Andrew Burashko and his Art of Time Ensemble, on the music of Korngold. All of these events lived up to my expectations. First of all, Goerne is among the most celebrated of lieder interpreters. He has been a frequent visitor to Toronto - I recall a recital at the then Ford Centre featuring the music of Hans Eisler. Then during the depth of the SARS crisis in Toronto when practically all the international artists cancelled for fear of catching something, Goerne showed up with the Toronto Symphony. For that alone I will always be grateful to Herr Goerne for living up to his end of the bargain. This time around, he appeared under the auspices of the Toronto Summer Music Festival, in a program of Schumann and Brahms. Like several other lieder specialists (Wolfgang Holzmair, Ian Bostridge comes to mind) Goerne has lots of eccentric body movements while delivering a song. This can be distracting to some, but for me, it just represents his total focus in exploring the inner meaning of the song text. His baritone remains one of the most beautiful and expressive today, exemplary in his attention to textual nuance. He sings in a relatively low dynamic level, never overpowering the song and only going up to forte infrequently. His Brahms in the second half was particularly memorable, singing the pieces with rich, smooth tone. Particularly affecting was the last song, Wie bist du, meine Konigin, one of Brahms' greatest creations. Andreas Haefliger played Brahms' Three Intermezzos for solo piano, Op. 117, with gleaming tone, even if rhythmically his playing was a little uneven and idiosyncratic. Rumoured to be under the weather, Goerne did not give an encore.

The morning after the recital, Goerne gave a two-hour masterclass at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. There was a good crowd of lieder fans gathered in the Torel Room in the Edward Johnson Building. Three singers participated in the masterclass - soprano Lesley Ann Bradley, tenor Colin Ainsworth and baritone Peter McGillivray. These three singers are scheduled to give a German Art Song Recital on Wednesday, August 4 in Walter Hall at 8 pm. so their participation was sort of a tune-up for the concert next week. Each student prepared three songs, but given the shortness of time (40 minutes per session), they worked on basically one to two pieces. Each student was allowed to sing the first piece all the way through, then the intensive work started. It must be disconcerting to be stopped three notes into the first line. Goerne made corrections and suggestions, and the student started again, and often made to stop again. It could not have been easy for a student to be deconstructed in this fashion, and one would benefit from possessing a very thick skin. There is no doubt that Mr. Goerne is a demanding teacher - not shy to speak his mind, sometimes in a rather blunt fashion. His class reminded me of a Elisabeth Schwarzkopf class I audited during my student days. Goerne wisely stuck to interpretation and stayed away from technical issues - it is always dangerous to fool around with a student's technique, as the master won't be there to offer support in the future. Also, it must have been very uncomfortable to be figuratively undressed in front of an audience, but such is the nature of the masterclass beast! In the final analysis, the advices given make for a better final product.

Last evening, I attended a chamber concert, Korngold: Source and Inspiration, given by Andrew Burashko and his Art of Time Ensemble. The format of this concert is very intriguing - an original composition, in this case Korngold's Suite for piano, two violins and cello is juxtaposed with six new songs inspired by the Suite, written and performed by contemporary musicians Danny Michel, John Southworth and Martin Tielli. Korngold was a child prodigy and he lived the second half of his life in Southern California as a well known film music composer. He was known for his melodic gift, amply demonstrated in the Suite. After the performance of the Korngold, the Ensemble was joined by the three songwriters in succession. The fragments that inspired the contemporary composition were played once again, followed by each new piece. I find the format - and most of the new creations - quite fascinating. I confess that as a classical music lover, I generally don't much like the vocal production of contemporary singers. I observed that part of the audience - perhaps the older ones - sat on their hands when it came time to applaud, underscoring the gulf between the classics and the contemporary. This concert was a brave attempt at drawing a connection between "source and inspiration" and Burashko and his team are to be applauded for their efforts.

An intriguing concert, Beauty Dissolves in a Brief Hour - A Triptych, is going on this week (July 29, 30 and 31 at the Tank House, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District in downtown Toronto). It is the world premiere of three chamber operas by Canadian composers - Fuhong Shi, John Rea and Pierre Klanac. Scored for soprano, mezzo and accordion, the common thread from the texts of the three works is on the eternal theme of love. According to the press release from the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, this show is "a collection of three extraordinary expostulations of love from three different cultures and periods". Singers are Xin Wang and Krisztina Szabo, sharing the stage with accordionist John Lettieri. The show is only about an hour long. If you are into the contemporary classical music scene, this is well worth attending. Go to for ticket information.

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