The title “Voices Across the Atlantic” could refer to compositional voices or singing voices. You had Barber & Willan from our side of the pond, Brahms, Britten & Monteverdi from the other. Ditto for the performing talent, coming from many places far & near.
Such was tonight’s iteration of the Toronto Summer Music theme “Beyond Borders” venturing beyond the other festival venues clear across Bloor Street to the congenial space of Church of the Redeemer.
And it was extraordinary, professionals at different stages of their careers:
- Masters of the vocal art such as tenor Charles Daniels and counter-tenor Daniel Taylor (also conducting and being a wonderfully informal host)
- Steven Philcox, one of Canada’s pre-eminent artists of collaborative vocalism, and a co-founder of the Canadian Art Song Project, at the keyboard
- And Toronto Summer Music Fellows, a talented young group including baritone Clarence Frazer, who has made a huge impression locally (for example in Canadian Stage’s Miss Julie or more recently in the Tapestry /Opera on the Avalon co-production of Shanawdithit) while still in the first decade of his career.
Yet everything was done in that most Canadian way, without any sense of ego or flashiness. For the audience it was an impeccable performance while for the musicians it was an opportunity for collaboration of the highest sort.
Here’s the program:
- Benjamin Britten: Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac Op 51
- Samuel Barber: Dover Beach, Op 3
- Johannes Brahms: Four Quartets, Op 92
- Benjamin Britten: Canticle IV: The Journey of the Magi, Op 86 (TS Eliot)
- Claudio Monteverdi:
- Si ch’io vorrei morire SV 89
- Adoramus te, Christe SV 289
- Lamento della ninfa SV 163
- Beatus Vir SV 268
- (encore) Healey Willan: “Rise up, my love, my fair one” motet #5
There was no intermission, and refreshments were offered right after the performance.
The Britten Canticles are dramas without staging, for the virtual theatre of the mind’s eye. Where the first one is solemn, the voice of God uncanny as a blend of the two high male voices and the urgent dialogue of father & son, the second with its playful text by TS Eliot is more ironic and distanced from anything overtly sacred, and feels forever timely. For the first we were treated to the blend of the Daniels’s, where the latter added the extra warmth of Frazer’s baritone. And Frazer gave a warm reading of the Barber, Arnold’s being another text that feels brand new when juxtaposed against current events.
We heard another sort of vocalism in the Brahms quartets, as two different quartets of TSM vocal Fellows each sang a pair of the lovely compositions. To close we were going back & forth between secular & sacred texts set by Monteverdi, with Willan’s motet casting the deciding vote in harmony with the church space: although the Song of Solomon would almost seem to erase any boundary between sacred or secular (speaking of “crossing borders“).
Don’t get the wrong impression, the young performers are accomplished early-career professionals not students. And they’re performing again this weekend as part of the Toronto Summer Music Festival.