La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Nathalie Paulin and the Nash Ensemble at Toronto Summer Music






















Photos: (t) The Nash Piano Trio; (b) Soprano Nathalie Paulin and pianist Michael McMahon

Romantic Pleasures
Nash Ensemble: Benjamin Nabarro, Laura Samuels, violins; Philip Dulces, viola; Paul Watkins, cello: Ian Brown, piano
Nathalie Paulin, soprano; Michael McMahon, piano
Saturday, August 6, 2011
7:30 p.m. Walter Hall

Liszt: Victor Hugo Songs
S'il est un charmant gazon
Comment, disaient-ils
Enfant, si j'etais roi
Oh! quand je dors
Faure: La bonne chanson
Chausson: Chanson perpetuelle, Op. 37 for soprano and piano quintet
Schubert: Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703
Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49

Tonight's concert was a double pleasure for me - re-acquainting with the lovely voice of Acadian soprano Nathalie Paulin, whom I had not heard for a few years, and discovering the artistry of a sensational chamber group, the London-based Nash Ensemble.

Since she last sang opera in Toronto - as Thibeaut in Don Carlos at the new opera house - Paulin has expanded her operatic repertoire in such roles as Despina for Cincinnati Opera and Massenet's Manon for Calgary Opera and Opera Lyra Ottawa. She recently received terrific notices for her participation in the rarely performed Les Indes Galantes in Boston and the even rarer Der Vampyr at the Lanaudiere Festival. So it's great to have her back in Toronto, her adopted home town, for an evening of French chansons. The Nash Ensemble is new to Toronto audiences, although the London-based group has been in existence since 1964. Well, it's no exaggeration to say they are a revelation, and we have TSMF to thank for bringing the group to Toronto.

The evening began with a group of four very well known Liszt songs, in French, set to the text by Victor Hugo. Paulin's best attributes - her warm middle register, her feminine, soft-grained tone, her attention to the French text, and her ingratiating stage persona - are tailor-made for this repertoire. She sang these with her usual lovely tone and depth of feeling, perhaps one could have wished for more ideally hushed high pianissimos, especially in the very famous "Oh! quand je dors." Michael McMahon, a frequent collaborative pianist for Canadian singers, offered solid support. The piano lid was fully open, but he did not swarm the singer. The next item was supposed to be Chausson's equally famous Chanson perpetuelle, but there was an unannounced program switch. Instead we got Faure's La bonne chanson, with the soprano accompanied by the Nash Ensemble. (An announcement really should have been made as these songs, however familiar elsewhere, aren't that commonly performed in English Canada) Perhaps it was the highly evocative strings - especially the wonderfully warm cello by Paul Watkins and Nabarro's violin, the blend between the voice and the instruments was so exquisite that one almost felt musically transported to the La Belle Epoque. The last item in the first half was the Chausson for soprano and piano trio. If there's an ultra-Romantic piece of music, this is it! The melodic line, the rhythm, and the strings literally drip pathos - perhaps a little soppy by modern standards, but... Paulin sang it with gleaming tone and emotional engagement. Following the intermission, the Nash ensemble played two familiar chamber pieces - Schubert's Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703 and the even more popular Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 49. The Ensemble's performance was a revelation- two beautifully paced readings with exemplary clarity and precision, not to mention refulgent tone and technical prowess. I hope we'll get to hear this wonderful group again.

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