Toronto Summer Music/Marion Newman and Nordic Voices; Mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, Norway’s Nordic Voices, pianist Jamie Parker; cellist Rachel Mercer; pianist Philip Chiu; violinist Scott St. John. Walter Hall, July 27, 2022.
Classical presenters feel obliged these days to offer diverse programming, however the concept might be defined. Toronto Summer Music on Wednesday evening offered what amounted to three concerts in one in Walter Hall.
The first half was dedicated to Nordic Voices, a Norwegian a cappella sextet that toggles contemporary and Renaissance pieces, with more stress on the former. Many were the microtonal drones, whistles, whispers and twangy sonorities, punctuated by occasional outbreaks of close harmony.
Despite all the sonic variety, the modern works (by Laase Thoresen, Bjørn Bolstad Skjelbred and Frank Havrøy, a member of the ensemble) made a strangely uniform impression. Motets by Victoria and especially Gesualdo (whose chromaticism scans as proto-romantic) seemed, rather oddly for turn-of-the-16th-century sacred music, a breath of fresh air.
As for the performances, intonation was fine and balances mostly equitable, although having recently heard the all-male Gesualdo Six, I must withhold the highest accolades. Havrøy, one of two members to address the audience, got a hearty laugh by remarking on what a satisfying thing it was, after two years of not touring, to feel jetlag again.
Following intermission, we heard mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, familiar to CBC listeners as a broadcaster, in four of Mahler’s five Rückert-Lieder. Phrasing was appropriate; an appealing and expressive stage presence made it possible to overlook a certain unsteadiness in vocal delivery. Jamie Parker provided reliable accompaniment without extracting much in the way of orchestral colour from the Steinway.
Finally came Dvořák’s Piano Trio Op. 90 “Dumky,” which was originally assigned to the Gryphon Trio. Two of the Gryphons called in sick. Happily, Scott St. John (violin), Rachel Mercer (cello) and Philip Chiu (piano) — all of whom are on the docket for Friday night’s concert — were willing to step in. The performance was full of improvisatory spirit, quite rightly given the folkish character of a work in six contrasting movements. For what it is worth, “dumka” and “dumky” are Ukrainian words.
The two-thirds audience expressed its approval with intrusive applause. There was a standing ovation for the Nordic Voices. At the very beginning of the concert we heard Omaa Bindiig 2, a layered and slow-moving piece by Andrew Balfour involving 21 performers (by my eye count) but giving the impression of being a fairly simple motet.
St. John really has to get with it. He was the only player reading from sheet music rather than a tablet. Spectators could follow the texts from a projection on the bulkhead above the stage. There were no program notes. Paper seems to be going out of style.
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