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A Day Full of Song: Re-Generation At Toronto Summer Music

By Joseph So on July 24, 2016

This year’s crop of fresh, young voices a particularly good one at Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song Re-Generation.

Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song: Re-Generation (Photo: Joseph So)
Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song: Re-Generation (Photo: Joseph So)

Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song: Re-Generation 1 and 2 at Walter Hall, Friday, July 22.

The 2016 Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song program wrapped up on Friday with two recitals, Re-Generation 1 and 2, at Walter Hall on the campus of University of Toronto. A strong component of the Academy wing of TSMF is the Art of the Song program, where exceptionally gifted young artists are mentored by the best singers and pianists in the business. At the end of the two-week period, a couple of recitals are given to showcase the wealth of talent found every summer at TSMF.

Participants this year were sopranos Adanya Dunn, Whitney Mather and Ellen McAteer, mezzos Rose Naggar-Tremblay and Simone McIntosh, tenor Asitha Tennekoon and Marcel d’Entremont, and baritone Jeremy Hirsch. Pianists were Rachael Kerr, Helen Becqué, Madeleine Christie, and Stéphane Mayer. In the first week, they received coaching from pianists Craig Rutenberg and Cameron Stowe, and in the second week from soprano Sasha Cooke. The public got to hear the end result, in recitals drawn from the French, German, and English song repertoire. Since these recitals are during the day, Walter Hall is never full, which is a shame.

I’ve always found these events very enjoyable. It’s great to hear fresh, young voices on the verge of a career, showing us what they can do. The 2016 crop is a particularly good one, with not a weak link in either voice or collaborative piano. To be sure, the road to perfection is an arduous one, and they are not quite there yet. But given their talent, drive and youthful enthusiasm, I predict they’ll forge significant careers.

The first of two recitals happened at noon. First up was soprano Adanya Dunn with Helen Becqué at the piano, in five short Poulenc songs. These are essentially miniatures and recognisably Poulenc. Dunn has a first rate, lovely lyric soprano, with gleaming tone and hall-filling volume. These pieces are often taken by singers with smaller, lighter instrument, so it’s a refreshing change. She delivered these songs beautifully, with sensitivity and textual nuance. Later in the afternoon, she offered “Chevaux des bois” from Ariettes oubliées by Debussy, sung with a lovely sheen. She also gave us from Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch “In dem Schatten meiner Locken,” a rather coy, even sexy song – within the 19th-century context, that is!  Dunn delivered it with the feminine playfulness and whimsy. Becqué proved once again a very supportive pianist.

Soprano Ellen McAteer squeezed five songs into the first recital, allowing her time to prepare for the evening performance of Rape of Lucretia. Three familiar songs from Frauenliebe und Leben, sung with fresh, youthful tone, a few fleeting moments of unsteadiness notwithstanding.  Her interpretation was on the reserved side, just missing a bit more of a smile in the tone in a happy song like “Er, der Herrlichste von allen.”  Her best was the soft, radiantly sung “Du Ring an meinem Finger.” Rachael Kerr’s playing was rock solid but never obtrusive, just as it should be. McAteer returned later for “Villes” from Les Illuminations, which she had sung previously in the public masterclass. Excellent, very dramatic piano playing by Madeleine Christie. McAteer was anything but reserved in “Royauté” also by Britten, acting out the story with relish.

Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song: Re-Generation (Photo: Joseph So)
Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song: Re-Generation (Photo: Joseph So)

Jeremy Hirsch started off with “Das Abendroth” by Schubert. His warm, engaging, forwardly placed baritone was heard to advantage, making a big sound at the top. The lowest notes were more of a work in progress. In the second half, he sang a lovely “Sehnsucht nach der Waldegegend.” Over all, a more developed mezza voce, particularly in the upper middle of his range and a less open top would serve him well in the future. I also liked his stab at the sardonic “La paon” by Ravel, very vividly delivered.

Mezzo Simone McIntosh sang three of the Sieben frühe Lieder beautifully. I don’t normally comment on appearance, but her spectacular, Klimt-inspired gold necklace had a real fin de siècle air to it and was perfect for the Alban Berg cycle. She sang with lovely, gleaming tone. The only criticism is her rendition of “Sommertage” with its tricky pitches was sung a bit tentatively. Perhaps she would have been better off with “Die Nachtigall” as she certainly has the top register to do it justice. Kudos to Rachael Kerr for her impressive piano playing, particularly in “Sommertage.”  For a change of pace, McIntosh sang the Frank Bridge song, “Love went a-riding” with exuberance, helped in no small way by the fabulous playing of Stéphane Mayer.

Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song: Re-Generation (Photo: Joseph So)
Toronto Summer Music Festival Art of the Song: Re-Generation (Photo: Joseph So)

Asitha Tennekoon’s bright, nicely resonant tenor was lovely in three songs from Schumann’s Dichterliebe. He sang “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” with expression and sensitive phrasing.  I also liked his “Phidylé” and “Chanson Triste” by Duparc very much, both delivered with a beautiful mezza voce. And I was pleasantly surprised by “Since we loved” by Finzi, sung with excellent English diction. Altogether a winning performance. High soprano Whitney Mather contributed three of the Strauss’ Ophelia Songs and three by Debussy. Her bright, soubrette voice with its characteristic flutter and lovely stage presence were ideal in these songs. I can imagine her as a winning Sophie in Werther. She also has excellent stage instincts, acting some of these pieces like a mini-opera, holding the stage brilliantly, especially in the Ophelia songs. Well done!

The one true low female voice in the group belonged to Rose Naggar-Tremblay. It’s a big, rich, hall-filling low mezzo bordering on contralto, yet her top is big and firm. I loved “Von ewige Liebe” by Brahms, which she sang with dramatic acuity. “Comment disaient-ils” showed off her excellent technique, complete with a beautifully controlled pianissimo. But the best was “Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer” which really showed off the richness and resonance of her sound. Madeleine Christie and Helen Becqué were the two fine pianists, offering her full support.

The final singer was tenor Marcel d’Entremont, who also participated in last summer’s masterclass. His development has been quite remarkable, with greater technical security. He sang the Liszt and Strauss with fine German diction. “Cäcilie” has the proper ecstatic quality so important in this piece, and like the masterclass last week, he sang the diminuendo G ending beautifully. Rachael Kerr offered impeccable playing. But the tenor’s best moment was his two pieces in the afternoon. “I hear an army” by Samuel Barber was sung with stentorian tone, practically an opera. He saved the best for last, when he sang Schubert’s “Erlkönig,” a Mount Everest of German Lieder that taxes the singer and the pianist alike. d’Entremont impressed with clarion tone and dramatic urgency. The four characters (father, child, the Erlking and the narrator) were well distinguished. If I had to quibble, the voice for the child should sound younger. Other than that, he did a fantastic job, as did Stéphane Mayer at the keyboard. It was a fitting end to a marvellous afternoon of song.


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Joseph So

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