Neapolitan Connection presented “A Romantic Music Tryst with Liszt,” as a much a playful exploration as a concert, presented in the intimate Studio Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.
The piano was not set up for a recital, but hidden behind a curtain, which opened upon a tableau vivant, a living reconstruction of Josef Danhauser’s painting Liszt at the Piano. The spirit of this painting—an imaginary meeting of different artists working across several art-forms—was also channelled by the performers in the concert.
We began with excerpts from the first year (“Suisse”) of Années de Pelerinage (“Years of Pilgrimage”), a kind of musical travelogue inspired by Liszt’s youthful travels and his literary & spiritual influences. We saw Angela Park sit down to the piano, apparently in the company of Liszt’s contemporaries (George Sand, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and more, in period costumes, as if in a salon to hear Liszt playing) as well as the two key earlier influences on the wall (Beethoven and Byron).
Park was particularly persuasive with “Au bord d’une source” and “Vallée d’Obermann,” confidently articulating every note.
After having heard from the expected side of Liszt –namely compositions for piano virtuoso—we went in a new direction with Park accompanying cellistRachel Mercer. Although Liszt is known for piano transcriptions –paraphrases of opera excerpts, orchestral masterpieces, and more—that was flipped on its head, as Mercer played transcriptions of Liszt pieces (returning the favour he had offered to so many composers), by turning piano music into cello music.
Mercer gave us a very lyrical version of “La Lugubre Gondola”, a piece known for its ambiguous tonalities and subtle moods, followed by a soulful reading of Liszt’s most famous tune of all, namely his “Liebestraum #3”.
The last section of the concert featured another change of direction, as soprano Eve Rachel McLeod sang Victor Hugo Lieder, again accompanied by Park. While McLeod has a voice of genuinely operatic power, she kept it gentle, always soaring gently to high notes while respecting the intimacy of the venue. And she was fortunate to have a pianist—Park—who was capable of handling the formidable challenges of these song accompaniments.
Neapolitan Connection are to be congratulated, both as organizers of such an original presentation, and for bringing talented young performers before Toronto audiences. Their next project is “French Impressions: Soirées with Debussy, Ravel & Poulenc”.