I met some new people tonight. Some of them were singers, some were composers, and everyone got along beautifully in several languages.
Tonight Michèle Bogdanowicz and Ernesto Ramirez sang a quintessentially Canadian program at Gallery 345, with pianist Rachel Andrist.
It’s an old truism that the difference between Canadians and our American neighbours is that their social fabric is a melting pot, in a country with a solid national identity that demands allegiance, whereas ours is a mosaic that doesn’t require you to sacrifice your heritage.
In the past year I’ve seen examples of artists finding inspiration in their own parentage. Last week I listened to Beatriz Boizan’s authentic Cuban piano playing. A few months ago, I reviewed an album of Estonian songs sung by Stephen Bell exploring his roots in that community.
Tonight was even more intensely multi-cultural, given that there are two nationalities in the marriage of the Polish Michèle Bogdanowicz and the Mexican Ernesto Ramirez. The tension between their ethnicities electrified the concert.
They began the concert on neutral turf with an aria from a Mozart opera. In some respects this was the most remarkable performance of the night, as Bogdanowicz sang “non piu di fiori” from La Clemenza di Tito, an operatic aria including a clarinet obbligato: played by Ramirez. I’ve never listened to the aria this way before, watching a man play those soulful passages that seem to unfold all the emotion inside the soul of the woman standing beside him, the woman to whom he’s married. While that was the last operatic item on the program, there was much more drama to come.
Bogdanowicz next sang Poulenc’s eight Polish Songs, a remarkable series of apparent folk melodies accompanied by rhythmic piano passages that often sound like Chopin. Other than visits to a Polish church, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone sing in Polish. These are stunning compositions that I wish I’d heard before.
Bogdanowicz followed with a special treat she’d prepared to honour her father, namely Four Lyrical Moments. This was a commission of original Polish songs composed for this occasion by Norbert Palej, setting texts of Halina Poswiatowska, a young Polish poetess. The songs were passionately melodic, subtly capturing the powerful texts. Bogdanowicz seemed especially comfortable with these songs.
Bogdanowicz began the second half with some of Viardot’s transcriptions of Chopin for piano & voice. Here, as in the Poulenc, Andrist’s subtle playing never pushed the piano into the spotlight, her rhymic clarity supporting the songs, without ever upstaging the singer. Bogdanowicz’s dramatic abilities shone in songs that were by turns dark¸ droll, or dynamic.
Then I heard Ernesto Ramirez for the first time (unless you include his clarinet playing), a pleasant discovery indeed. This is one of the most melodious voices I’ve heard in a very long time, an effortless sound that was a constant joy to hear.
The final numbers were duets by Viardot, an especially romantic meeting ground, with two transcribed from Chopin, followed by a Habanera. But in the end they always had a common language, namely music. And now I wonder if I will ever hear anything like that again, whether in a recording or concert. I hope to hear Bogdanowicz & Ramirez together again someday.