Generation Next featuring pianists Alexander Seredenko, Tony Yike Yang, and Charles Richard-Hamelin; cellist Stephane Tetreault, and mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo at Koerner Hall. Nov. 10.
For a country of 35 million, Canada has produced more than its share of fine classical musicians, be they singers, instrumentalists, conductors, or stage directors. I travel frequently for music to the States, Europe and beyond. I’d invariably encounter Canadian artists, either established stars or as up and coming talents, on the roster somewhere, showing the musical world what they can do.
Last Thursday, I didn’t have to go far. Right here at Koerner Hall, I caught a concert labeled Generation Next, featuring five exceptional young Canadians on the verge of major international careers. The timing couldn’t have been better, as the IAMA Conference — short for International Artist Managers’ Association — was in town. Two hundred conference delegates, always keen to discover new talent, were at the recital — talk about getting exposure!
The five performers were pianists Alexander Seredenko, Tony Yike Yang, and Charles Richard-Hamelin; cellist Stephane Tetreault, and mezzo-soprano Emily D’Angelo. I’m familiar with all five, three of them very well. I’ve heard D’Angelo, who is in her first year as a member of the COC Ensemble Studio. I heard online her Met Auditions which she won back in March 2015, and I interviewed her at the time for articles in Musical Toronto and Opera Canada. I’ve also heard cellist Stephane Tetreault play a fabulous Elgar Cello Concerto under the baton of Yannick Nezet-Seguin at Koerner Hall. In May 2015, I was in the audience when Tetreault and Charles Richard-Hamelin compete for a Career Development Award given by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. They both played spectacularly, with Hamelin ended up taking the top prize.
By an unusual twist, Seredenko and Yang both ended up playing the same piece – Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 7 on this occasion. This was due to a last-minute switch by Seredenko from his originally announced Rachmaninoff Sonata No. 2. No explanation was given for the change. A graduate of the Glenn Gould School, Seredenko was the winner of the Hamamatsu Competition in Japan and the Canadian Chopin Competition, just two of many he has won. Yang’s big claim to fame was his winning Fifth Prize at the 17th-Chopin Competition in Warsaw, at 16 the youngest laureate ever.
Seredenko is an enormously gifted pianist, with all the requisite tricks up his technical sleeve. His technique remained impressive here, but for some reason, I find his approach to the Prokofiev on this occasion too aggressive and percussive. The heavy-pedal he used made his playing muddy-sounding, while it should have clarity, a quality one has come to expect from him. It was particularly obvious when Yang played the same piece 25 minutes later. The overall colour of this Sonata is by nature rather aggressive and angular, but Yang never overplayed his hand, always well-judged and in control, bringing out the inherent lyricism as much as possible.
Cellist Stéphane Tetreault followed with Schumann’s Fantasiestücke for cello and piano, Op. 73. Originally for clarinet and piano, Schumann arranged a version for cello. After the in-your-face aggressiveness and angularity of the Prokofiev, the Schumann never sounded more beautiful and mellow. Tetreault has always had a gorgeous, singing tone, perfect in the Romantic repertoire. His lightness of touch, warm, soft yet vibrant and full-bodied tone was a pleasure, fully capturing the Romanticism of the piece. I would be remiss if I don’t single out the pianist, Philip Chiu, for praise. He was the ideal collaborative pianist — totally supportive of the soloist, technically assured at all time but never showy or upstaging the soloist. Bravi tutti!
Mezzo Emily D’Angelo chose an aria from Giovanna D’Arco by Rossini. This is one of those pieces with seemingly non-stop coloratura, runs, roulades, trills, you name it. D’Angelo was up to the task. She held the stage well, given the length of the piece, in particular during the long piano introduction, nicely played by Stephen Philcox, Her mezzo has impressive power and volume, as well as the requisite nuance in the quieter passages. I was particularly impressed with the several diminuendos and crescendos she executed, and the lovely mezza voce over all. However, to my ears this aria sits a bit low in her voice, which is happier in the higher reaches. A minor quibble – when she dipped into the lower middle part of her range, the tone turned a bit fluttery, even occasionally tremulous. But on balance it was a winning performance.
The last person to perform was Charles Richard-Hamelin, in the challenging Chopin Piano Sonata No. 3. As is typical of this pianist, his stage manner is modest, non-flashy, totally without the histrionics that seems to have infected so many young pianists today. He never panders to the audience – what we get is not showmanship but honest and truly beautiful music-making. On this occasion, his singing tone, elegant phrasing, poetic imagination, and formidable technique were all in place, just what’s needed for a memorable Sonata No. 3. Incidentally, kudos to the very disciplined and knowledgeable audience, without a single inappropriate applause the whole evening. Hamelin’s playing of the Finale was exceptional. I understand the concert was taped for live-streaming and on demand for free at the RCM website – http://www.rcmusic.ca/livestream – do hear it for yourself. Hamelin even gave an encore, a scintillating Chopin Polonaise. His success in Warsaw was no fluke!
There you have it — all five prodigiously gifted musicians amply demonstrating that they’re ready, willing and able to leave their marks on the musical world.
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