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Concert review: Aldeburgh Connection says a golden goodbye with Benjamin Britten

By John Terauds on May 26, 2013

The Aldeburgh Connection, with the young singers of the Canadian Children's Opera Company at Walter Hall on Sunday afternoon (John Terauds phone photo).
The Aldeburgh Connection, with the young singers of the Canadian Children’s Opera Company at Walter Hall on Sunday afternoon (John Terauds phone photo).

It takes a very special artist to say goodbye in style — to know when to do it and how to do it. Bruce Ubukata and Stephen Ralls of the Aldeburgh Connection did exactly that at Walter Hall on Sunday afternoon. It’s a concert that everyone in the full house will remember fondly for many years.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

There was probably a misty eye or two during a programme devoted to Benjamin Britten, the composer responsible for Ralls and Ubukata meeting each other in Aldeburgh in the mid-1970s. But there were also many chuckles.

Above all, the Aldeburgh Connection’s farewell performance after 31 seasons — that’s 270 concerts and 5920 songs, according to Ralls, who’d been counting — was about bringing an exceptionally finely honed mix of art song and spoken word to the concert stage.

It felt as if no detail had been left unattended for Sunday’s programme, from the mix of opera excerpts and art song written or arranged by Britten, to the choice of interpreters.

There isn’t a single extraneous note in Britten’s music. It is spare, direct and powerful, even when seemingly about innocuous things. In the same vein, there wasn’t a single extraneous word or gesture in the Aldeburgh Connection’s farewell concert.

In their very best voices and interpretations we heard soprano Virginia Hatfield, countertenor Scott Belluz, tenor Colin Ainsworth and baritone Geoffrey Sirett.

In a stroke of genius, Ralls and Ubukata had invited the Canadian Children’s Opera Company and their director, Ann Cooper Gay, to join them on stage for the second half of the programme.

Hearing treble Kiyoshi Gibson open with “Beware!” was an instant and powerful reminder that, as we mark the passing of one concert tradition in Toronto, new ones will come to be through these young voices.

In the second of three encores, baritone Gerald Finley, a long-ago alumnus of Aldeburgh Connection concerts, sprang out of his seat in the audience to sing a surprise solo. Now internationally recognized, Finley is a symbol of how Ralls and Ubukata — as Britten and his partner Peter Pears had done for them — championed young talent from the very beginning of their musical (and personal) partnership.

The Aldeburgh Connection has long represented the very best of salon-style concerts in Toronto. These affairs were intimate, speaking seemingly directly to each and every audience member. The concerts were honest. They were intelligently put together.

One always came away from an Aldeburgh Connection with a feeling that here were people who loved what they were doing more than anything else in the world. It was the same on Sunday afternoon. Except that it really is in the past tense now — for Aldeburgh.

There are all sorts of enterprising young performers in this city who will find their honest, enthusiastic, committed ways of reaching out to new audiences. And Ralls and Ubukata say they have other projects planned for the future, so there is a lot to look forward to.

Ralls and Ubukata had entitled their finale “A Time There Was.” There are still many new times to be.

 John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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