Daniel Lichti’s Jubilee Year

1909 Art SongSchubert’s song cycle Die Winterreise has long been a favourite of mine, initially through recordings and then through a fine performance by the late John Shirley-Quirk in Oxford, sometime in the late 1960s. But there have been two other performances which have been especially memorable: one was by the young Jonas Kaufmann in Edinburgh, the other by Daniel Lichti at St. Thomas Church in Toronto, a much darker reading, as one would expect from a bass-baritone. (Lichti has also recorded the work, with the pianist Leslie De’Ath, on Analekta.) I was therefore delighted to read that Lichti is performing the work, on the occasion of his 40th anniversary as a singer, in Waterloo on July 16 at the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society Music Room, and in Toronto on July 20 at Heliconian Hall. The pianist is Ephraim Laor.

Sondra Radvanovsky, who recently dazzled us all in the role of Queen Elizabeth I in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux, will sing the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Shalom Bard, on June 5 and 7. The TSO is also presenting a Gershwin concert, with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, in which the soloists are Marquita Lister and Lisa Daltirus, soprano, Gwendolyn Brown, alto, Jermaine Smith, tenor, and Alfred Walker, baritone, on June 20 and 21; all at Roy Thomson Hall.

GTA: By June the frequency of concerts starts diminishing but there is a compensation in the arrival of several summer festivals. Of special interest is Toronto Summer Music. This year its focus is on the early 20th century and it will feature modernists like Schoenberg and Bartók as well as late-Romantic composers like Richard Strauss and Vaughan Williams. A number of the concerts offered are vocal recitals: on August 6, baritone Christopher Maltman and pianist Graham Johnson will present a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Great War; the program, “The Soldier – from Severn to Somme,” will include some of the Housman settings by George Butterworth and others, as well as songs by Mahler, Mussorgsky, Ives and Poulenc. The August 7 concert includes the Schoenberg arrangement of Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer, to be sung by baritone Peter McGillivray. On July 31, Sondra Radvanovsky will perform songs by Verdi, Rachmaninoff, Copland and Duparc. The coaching of young performances has always been central to the programs of Toronto Summer Music. This year eight singers and four pianists have been selected; their mentors are Graham Johnson and the baritone François Le Roux. They will perform on August 8 at noon and 4pm. These concerts are all in Walter Hall, except for the Radvanovsky recital which is in Koerner Hall.

It is common now for singers to end their recitals with crossover items: jazz, musicals, even pop. The results are rarely satisfactory as one has the sense of a classical singer letting her (or his) hair down. But I expect something rather special from Measha Brueggergosman’s recital for the TD Toronto Jazz Festival on June 26. I had the good fortune of hearing Measha Gosman (as she then was) when she was still an undergraduate and what I remember especially were her performances of spirituals. I fully realize that jazz and spirituals are not the same thing but I think she will bring the same intensity to the jazz as she did to the spirituals many years ago. Another singer to hear at the Toronto Jazz Festival is the Spanish vocalist Maria Concepción Balboa Buika, better known by her stage name, Buika. That concert is on June 25; both concerts are at Koerner Hall.

Beyond the GTA: July 5 and 6, with a preview on July 4, the Westben Arts Festival Theatre in Campbellford will present the Toronto Masque Theatre production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneaswith Lauren Segal, mezzo, as Dido and Alexander Dobson, baritone, as Aeneas; directed by Larry Beckwith. On July 10 Donna Bennett, soprano, and Brian Finley, piano, will perform works by Mozart, Robert and Clara Schumann, Chopin and Rachmaninoff. From July 23 to 26 there will be four concert performances of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera with Mark DuBois and Donna Bennett singing the main parts. On July 27, sopranos Virginia Hatfield and Joni Henson and mezzo Megan Latham will perform the trio from Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier as well as music from The Tales of Hoffmann, Madama Butterfly and Carmen.

If you cannot get to Campbellford for Dido and Aeneas, you will have another chance to see it in Parry Sound at the Festival of the Sound on July 30. Lauren Segal is again singing Dido and Peter McGillivray is taking over the role of Aeneas. There will also be songs and instrumental music by Purcell. Also at the Festival of the Sound: Robert Pomakov, bass, will sing Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death on July 22; Richard and Lauren Margison will give a joint recital on July 27; Leslie Fagan, soprano, and Peter McGillivray, baritone, will sing a program of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms on August 1; on August 5 Tom Allen, Lori Gemmell, Kevin Fox, Patricia O’Callaghan and Bryce Kulak will perform in the “Judgement of Paris” – a neat pun, since the performance will be about the rivalry between two Parisian composers, Debussy and Ravel; the Festival will end on August 10 with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in which the soloists are Leslie Fagan, soprano, Marion Newman, mezzo, Michael Colvin, tenor, and Russell Braun, baritone. These performances are all at the Charles W. Stockey Centre. Also at the Festival of the Sound: the Toronto Consort presents “Shakespeare’s Songbook” at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, July 25.

Stratford Summer Music presents several concerts of music associated with Shakespeare, given by the Folger Shakespearean Consort (a recorder group) and the Consort Arcadia Viols. On July 23 “Courting Elizabeth: Music and Patronage in Shakespeare’s England” will present music by Dowland, lyra viol pieces by Tobias Hume as well as consort songs and lute ayres of Shakespeare’s time. The singer is the tenor James Taylor. On July 24 songs with texts by Shakespeare – or quoted by him – will be performed along with an operatic version of The Tempest as well as broadside ballads and country dances. The singer is the countertenor Drew Minter; the lutenist is Mark Rimple. Both concerts are in St. Andrew’s Church. In addition you can hear a discussion of  “An Examination of Shakespeare in Song” on July 24 at 2pm at the University of Waterloo, Stratford Campus with music by Thomas Morley, Robert Johnson and John Wilson. Minter and Rimple will again perform.

The Elora Festival includes the “Da Vinci Codex” with the Toronto Consort on July 15 and “Canada, Fall In! The Great War Remembered in Words, Images and Song” on July 19, both in St. John’s Church; the “Judgement of Paris,” July 18, Richard and Lauren Margison, July 19, “Songs from the Stage and Silver Screen,” July 23, and The Tenors, July 25; all at the Gambrel Barn.

And one other event: “Summer Nights: Languor and Longing” is the title of a recital to be given by soprano Melanie Conly and pianist Kathryn Tremills. The program includes Samuel Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 and Les nuits d’été by Berlioz as well as music by Purcell, Weill and Gershwin at the Heliconian Hall, June 19.

Hans de Groot is a concert-goer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Lust and Sloth in Rosedale

1908-ArtofSongRachel Andrist, the co-director of Recitals at Rosedale (held at Rosedale Presbyterian Church), tells me that when it was first suggested to her that she might start a new recital series she was only lukewarm to the idea. She got more enthusiastic when she heard that the recitals of the Aldeburgh Connection would soon be no more. At the same time she realized that it would not be a good idea simply to repeat the kind of programs that the Aldeburgh Connection had always mounted: they tended to concentrate on a particular composer or on a particular milieu and they were elaborately documented through the use of letters and diaries.

By contrast, the programs at Rosedale have been wide ranging and they have been unified by a common theme. The 2013-14 season began with “The Seven Virtues” and will, in the season’s final concert, May 25, end with its logical complement, “The Seven Deadly Sins.” All the Sins will be represented, from Lust (the Don Quichotte songs by Ibert) to Sloth (Lob der Faulheit by Haydn). The singers will be Lindsay Barrett and Ambur Braid, soprano, Michael Colvin, tenor, and Robert Gleadow, bass. Besides Ibert and Haydn, they will perform solo songs and duets by Schubert, Verdi, Mahler, Poulenc, Barber, Porter and Somers. Three concerts are planned for next season: “A Walk on the Dark Side: Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales” with Leslie Ann Bradley, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone, on November 9 (song cycles by Zemlinsky, Szymanowski and Heggie; songs and ballads by Wolf, Schumann, Finzi and others); “Serenades: Forgotten and Found” on March 8, 2015, with Gillian Keith, soprano, Michèle Bogdanowicz, mezzo, and Charles Sy, tenor (song cycles by Raum, a world premiere, and Palej, selections from the Debussy Vasnier album, songs and duets by Gounod, Rossini, Schubert, Strauss and others); “Wanderlust: There and Back Again” with Lucia Cesaroni, soprano, Emily D’Angelo, mezzo, and Anthony Cleverton, baritone, on May 3, 2015 (the Mignon Harper songs by Schumann as well as works by Fauré, Duparc, Wolf, Schubert, Vaughan Williams and others).

Topi Lehtipuu is a Finnish tenor who is acclaimed for his work in Baroque music (Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau) and in Mozart’s operas (Belmonte, Ferrando, Tamino). But he has also performed a great deal of Romantic and modern music. His debut was at the Savonlinna Festival in Britten’s Albert Herring; he has sung (and recorded) the part of David in Glyndebourne’s production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg as well as, also at Glyndebourne, that of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. This month he will be singing contemporary music at Carnegie Hall in New York with the ACJW Ensemble and he will return to New York in October to sing the tenor arias in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle. The Canadian Friends of Finland are sponsoring Lehtipuu’s debut performances in Ottawa (May 20 at the First Unitarian Church) and in Toronto at the Agricola Finnish Lutheran Church May 22. The recital will begin with Schumann’s Dichterliebe and will also include arias by Vivaldi and Mozart as well as songs by Duparc and Fauré. Finnish music will be represented by two songs by Sibelius and by The Forest Maid (Siniipika) by Toivo Kuula, Sibelius’ pupil. The recital will end with music by Gershwin. The pianist is Christophe Larrieu.

Wallis Giunta, mezzo, will be the soloist in Anaïs Nin, a monodrama by the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen. The work is based on Nin’s Journals; it was first presented in Siena in 2010 and the Toronto performance at Koerner Hall, May 22, constitutes its Canadian premiere

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the Russian baritone, became well-known in the West in 1989, when he won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, beating out the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, who had to settle for the Lieder Prize. Hvorostovsky is especially known for his performances of Russian opera and song, but not exclusively. In April he sang the role of Germont in La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and will return to London next season to sing Renato in Un ballo in maschera. In September he sang Iago in Otello at the Wiener Staatsoper and he will again sing in Vienna next season, as Germont and as Rodrigo in Don Carlos. On June 1 he will be in Toronto at Koerner Hall to perform a recital with Ivari Ilja, which will include music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Medtner and Liszt.

Richard Bradshaw: As always, many of the most interesting recitals will take place at noon at the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium in the Four Seasons Centre: on May 6 the mezzo Allyson McHardy, with pianist Liz Upchurch, tenor Andrew Haji and violist Keith Hamm, will perform Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Op.91, by Brahms, the second Canticle (Abraham and Isaac) by Britten and The Confession Stone by Robert Fleming; on May 13 the baritone Russell Braun will perform Dover Beach by Samuel Barber and La bonne chanson by Fauré (with Marie Bérard, violin, and other members of the COC Orchestra); on May 15 members of the COC Orchestra and Ensemble Studio will perform instrumental and vocal works by Handel, Bach and Albinoni; on May 20 there is a farewell concert given by the graduating members of the COC Ensemble Studio; on May 22 Stephen R. Clarke will play and comment on recordings by Feodor Chaliapin, the bass who, in 1910, created the role of Don Quichotte in Massenet’s opera (staged this month by the COC). These events are all free.

Women in Song is the title of a benefit concert at St. Andrew’s Church; May 24, in support of the Out of the Cold program. The singers are Allison Angelo, Nathalie Paulin and Monica Whicher, soprano, and Norine Burgess and Elizabeth Forster, mezzo. The pianist is John Greer.

Other Events in the GTA: Mireille Asselin is the soprano soloist in Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. The clarinetist is Camilo Davila and the pianist, Jean Desmarais. The program also includes Brahms’ Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in F minor, Op.120 as well as other works by Schumann and Davila. Shannon Mercer is the soprano soloist in a fundraising concert for the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto at Integral House, 194 Roxborough Drive, May 4. The pianist is Steven Philcox

Also on May 4, at Glenn Gould Studio, Off Centre Music Salon will present the music of Romantic Russian composers who were active in a modernist age: Rachmaninoff, Medtner, Grechaninov and Rebikov. The singers are Erica Iris Huang and Michèle Bogdanowicz, mezzo, Edgar Ernesto Ramirez, tenor, and Peter McGillivray, baritone (Glenn Gould Studio).

On May 10 at Eastminster United Church, the Academy Concert Series presents a Handel concert which will include selections from his Nine German Arias as well as other works. The singer is Nathalie Paulin, soprano.

On May 27 and 28at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre, the Talisker Players will present “A Poet’s Love.” The program includes Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Fauré’s La bonne chanson as well as works by Beckwith and Rappoport. The singer is Alexander Dobson, baritone, and the reader, Stewart Arnott.

Leigh Ann Allen and Natalya Matyusheva, soprano, Lauren Phillips, mezzo, and Keith Lam, baritone, are the winners in the NYCO Mozart Competition. They will perform with the NYCO Orchestra on May 31 at St. Michael’s College School.

 

Hans de Groot is a concert-goer and active listener who also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Amateur Choirs, Professional Soloists

artofsong kasia-konstantykasiaOne of the main problems for even the most talented young singer is how to get his or her career started. There are many places where a solid training is given: the Glenn Gould School at the Royal Conservatory or the music faculties or departments at our Universities, such as Toronto and McGill, York and Western Ontario. Then there are opportunities for further training through the mentorship program at Toronto Summer Music or the Opera Division at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, the Ensemble Studio of the Canadian Opera Company or the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal.

In a number of cases such participation has led to important professional engagements. This season, for instance, we were able to hear several recent graduates of the Ensemble Studio in major roles at the COC: Ileana Montalbetti sang Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, Simone Osborne performed Musetta in La bohème and Oscar in Un ballo in maschera. In the recent Tafelmusik performances of Handel’s Saul, the part of Saul’s daughter Michal was sung by Sherezade Panthaki, an alumna of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. And there are always competitions: the North York Concert Orchestra (NYCO) recently announced the winners of the 2013/14 Mozart Competition: Leigh-Ann Allen and Natalya Matyusheva, soprano, Lauren Phillips, mezzo, and Keith Kam, baritone. They will sing with NYCO on May 31.

Read more: Amateur Choirs, Professional Soloists

The Canadian Art Song Project

1906 artsongThere have been a number of suggestions in recent months that in Toronto the vocal recital is in a very delicate state. The music critic John Terauds referred in his blog to “the near extinction of the vocal recital from Toronto’s concert scene over the past two seasons.” It is easy to back up that statement: the Aldeburgh Connection ceased to be after 31 glorious seasons; the celebrity recitals at Roy Thomson Hall all but disappeared a few years ago; the four-recital series at the Glenn Gould Studio, which was not well publicized and which was poorly attended, has gone. Mervon Mehta, RCM’s executive director of performing arts, said in a recent interview that Koerner Hall was simply not the right place for vocal recitals. He mentioned that the tenor Ian Bostridge, whose 2005 recital in Roy Thomson Hall had been well attended, drew only a small audience there.

But not everything is doom and gloom. As Terauds acknowledged, there have been many vocal recitals in the (free) lunchtime series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre; Music Toronto, although its programs centre on the piano and on chamber music, has in the last two years presented Erin Wall and Phillip Addis; a new (four-concert) series has started at Rosedale Presbyterian Church directed initially by Rachel Andrist and John Greer and now by Andrist and Monica Whicher. Vocal recitals have also come back to Koerner Hall: recently we had the bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni and the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky will be singing there on June 1; the 2014-15 season promises the tenor Marcello Giordani, the baritone Christian Gerhaher and the mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Last summer Toronto Summer Music gave us Philippe Sly and Sanford Sylvan. Their line-up for the summer of 2014 has not yet been announced but we already know that the baritone François Le Roux and the collaborative pianist Graham Johnson will be among the mentors. And we should not forget that young singers (or their agents) from time to time book venues like the Heliconian Hall for song recitals.

Wiliford and Philcox: One of the most interesting recent developments is the Canadian Art Song Project, initiated and directed by the tenor Lawrence Wiliford and the collaborative pianist Steven Philcox. The aims of the Project are best given in its mission statement: “To foster the creation and performance of Canadian repertoire by commissioning Canadian composers to write for Canadian singers; to facilitate a collaborative process between the composer and the performer; and to promote artistic excellence and the Canadian experience in the living art of song.” Past commissions have included Sewing the Earthworm by Brian Harman (2012; sung by the soprano Carla Huhtanen), Cloud Light by Norbert Palej (2013) and Extreme Positions and Birefringence by Brian Current (also 2013; recently performed by the soprano Simone Osborne). 2014 brings us Moths by James Rolfe (text by Andre Alexis) and a new work by Peter Tiefenbach (text by James Ostine; to be performed by the baritone Geoffrey Sirett). For 2015 Marjan Mozetich will be writing a new work to be sung by the mezzo Allyson McHardy; for 2016 there are plans to perform and perhaps record unpublished songs by Healey Willan (apparently 100 or so exist!); for 2017 Canada’s sesquicentennial will be marked by a new composition by Ana Sokolović for soprano, mezzo, tenor and bass with texts from across Canada, to be performed by members of the Ensemble Studio of the Canadian Opera Company.

This month the Canadian Art Song Project will unveil its first CD, on the Centredisc label. All the works on the disc are by Derek Holman and they include Ash Roses (1994; written for the young Karina Gauvin), Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal (2007), The Four Seasons (2009; written in commemoration of Richard Bradshaw) and three Songs for High Voice and Harp (2011). The CD will be launched at a recital by Mireille Asselin, soprano, Lawrence Wiliford, tenor, Liz Upchurch, piano, and Sanya Eng, harp (Canadian Music Centre, March 7). The songs performed by Wiliford were written with his voice in mind; he also gave the first performances of The Four Seasons (with Upchurch) and the Songs for High Voice and Harp (with Eng). The Holman disc will also be available at “A Celebration of Canadian Song” in the free lunchtime series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre on March 27. At this concert the premiere performance of James Rolfe’s Moths will be given by Brett Polegato, baritone, and Steven Philcox; Colin Ainsworth will be singing excerpts from Derek Holman’s A Play of Passion; the soprano Monica Whicher will perform songs by the young British Columbia composer Matthew Emory as well as a set by Pierre Mercure. Ainsworth and Whicher will be accompanied by the pianist Kathryn Tremills.

Clearly this is a very worthwhile project; it deserves everyone’s support. Tax-deductible donations can be made through the Project’s website (canadianartsong project.ca). Anyone interested in commissioning a new work should contact Wiliford or Philcox (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ).

The Ukrainian Art Song Project: a recording of songs based on the poetry of Taras Shevschenko is now available. It features the bass-baritone Pavlo Hunka and a number of Canadian singers: Russell Braun, Krisztina Szabó, Benjamin Butterfield, Allyson McHardy, Elizabeth Turnbull, Colin Ainsworth, Monica Whicher and Isabel Bayrakdarian. A second CD with 80 Galician songs will be launched in November. Hunka will also sing on March 23, along with local Ukrainian choirs and the Gryphon Trio at Koerner Hall.

Other Events in the GTA:

On March 8 Measha Brueggergosman will sing works by Brahms, Ravel, Turina, Copland, Ellington and Joni Mitchell at the Flato Theatre, Markham.

March 16 and 18The Talisker Players present “Creature to Creature: A 21st-Century Bestiary,” with Norine Burgess, mezzo, and Geoffrey Sirett, baritone; works by Poulenc, Rappoport and Hoiby (Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, March 16 and 18).

March 26: Jennifer Taverner and Lesley Bouza, soprano, Jennifer Enns Modolo, mezzo, Isaiah Bell, tenor, and Michael York, baritone, are the soloists in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s performance of  Bach’s B Minor Mass at Koerner Hall.

On March 30 Kristine Dandavino, mezzo, and Dillon Parmer, tenor, will be the soloists in a performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde at the Kingsview United Church, Oshawa.

On April 3 Claire de Sévigné, soprano, Charlotte Burrrage, mezzo, Andrew Haji, tenor, and Gordon Bintner, bass-baritone, are the singers in Brahms’ Liebeslieder Walzer, a free noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.

And beyond the GTA:

On March 8 Leslie Fagan will be the soprano soloist in Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rock. The program will also include Brahms’ Clarinet Sonata no.2 and his Clarinet Quintet at the Maureen Forrester Recital Hall, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo.

March 22: Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Daniel Lichti sings Elijah and other roles are taken by Anne Marie Ramos, soprano, Sophie Roland, alto, and Chris Fischer, tenor at River Run Centre, Guelph.

March 23: Allison Angelo, soprano, Jennifer Routhier, mezzo, Christopher Mayell, tenor, and Bruce Kelly, baritone, will be the soloists in Mozart’s Requiem  at the Kingston Gospel Temple.

A Correction: A mistake crept into my February column as it moved from an e-mail attachment into print. I had tried to make a distinction between the Purcell Consort directed by Grayston Burgess and the Deller Consort directed by Alfred Deller (and after his death, by his son Mark). In the printed version of the column the two were conflated.

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener. He also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The Canadian Countertenor

It must be well over 50 years ago (I think I was still an undergraduate) that I heard a recital by the countertenor Alfred Deller. I remember that the reviewer in the student newspaper was rather unkind. He said something like: “It is said that Deller never had any voice lessons and I can well believe it.” I liked Deller’s performance well enough, even if he never aspired to the kind of virtuosity that we can now admire in singers like Philippe Jaroussky or Max Emanuel Cencic.

bbb - art song - alfred dellerCountertenors were an important part of English music in the time of Purcell and Handel. The tradition was kept alive in the Anglican cathedral choirs, as it was here in Toronto, at St. James Cathedral, St. Simon-the-Apostle and Grace Church on-the-Hill. Deller was an alto at Canterbury Cathedral and his emergence as a soloist was the result of being discovered by the composer Michael Tippett, who conducted Deller in a Purcell concert at Morley College in 1944. Soon there were others, notably John Whitworth and, in the U.S., Russell Oberlin, who founded the New York Pro Musica Antiqua in 1952. A slightly younger singer was Grayston Burgess, who had been the head chorister at Canterbury Cathedral at the time that Deller was singing alto there. Burgess sang in Handel’s Semele at Sadlers Wells in 1958; he founded the Purcell Consort of Voices in 1963. Deller’s son Mark, who had become a member of the consort in 1962, directed the group after his father’s death in 1979.

Interestingly, a number of modern composers have started to write for the countertenor voice, beginning with Constant Lambert in The Rio Grande (1927), in which the alto part was sung by Albert Whitehead. Benjamin Britten wrote for the countertenor voice in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the role of Oberon), in Death in Venice (the voice of Apollo) and in two of the Canticles. More recently, Peter Eötvös, in his opera Three Sisters (1996-97), based on the play by Chekhov, has the roles of all four young women sung by countertenors.

In Canada the pioneers were Theodore Gentry (who died in 2003), Garry Crighton (who died in 2012) and Allan Fast (who died, far too young at 41, in 1995). Gentry sang the alto solo in Handel’s Messiah (with the TSO and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir) and the role of Osric in the North American premiere of Humphrey Searle’s Hamlet. He performed the role of the King in R. Murray Schafer’s Ra, a part written for him, and also the title role in Schafer’s The Black Theatre of Hermes Trismegistus. His career was cut short by a stroke in 1996. Crighton was a founding member of the Toronto Consort and the male sextet The Gents. He was also the alto soloist in St. James Cathedral and sang with The Musicians of Swanne Alley. He taught at the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music. He left Toronto in 1983 and was active in musical groups in Belgium and Germany for many years after that. I heard Allan Fast once, a magnificent performance. His singing can be heard on two recordings of Buxtehude with the McGill Chamber Singers and Collegium Musicum and on a recording of Bach’s cantata Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan, conducted by Joshua Rifkin.

Frank Nakashima had been a student of Crighton in high school. Crighton encouraged him to sing countertenor and he did so at St. Thomas on Huron Street, at St. Mary Magdalene and at St. Simon’s. He too was a founding member of the Toronto Consort, where he sang both tenor and countertenor. In recent years he has been a central figure in the organization of the Toronto Early Music Centre. Carl Stryg sang alto at St. Simon’s under Derek Holman in the early 80s. He had a relatively brief solo career and is now chiefly known as a maker of shortbread.

bbb - art song - sir thomas allenNow there are many Canadian countertenors: Scott Belluz, Gary Boyce, Stratton Bull, Daniel Cabena, Stephen Chen, John Cowling, Richard Cunningham, Peter Mahon, Andrew Pickett, Matthew White, Richard Whittall, Timothy Wong. The best known Canadian countertenor is Daniel Taylor. Taylor studied privately with Allan Fast and later at McGill with the late Jan Simons. We have had a number of recent opportunities to hear him in Toronto and he has a large and impressive discography. In 2001 he founded the Theatre of Early Music. He is now also the head of Historical Performance at the University of Toronto and he directs the Schola Cantorum there, a group that consists partly of professionals and partly of music students. In January both groups sang in performances of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and in a reconstruction of the Coronation of King George II with music by Gibbons, Purcell, Tallis and Handel. Still to come is a concert of music by Schütz (Musikalische Exequien) and Buxtehude (Jesu meines Lebens Leben). Taylor will also be the alto soloist in the Tafelmusik performances of Handel’s oratorio Saul (Koerner Hall, February 21 to 23). The other soloists are: Joanne Lunn and Sherezade Panthaki, sopranos, Rufus Müller, tenor, and Peter Harvey, baritone.

Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre: there are a number of vocal recitals: Tracy Dahl, soprano, and Liz Upchurch, piano, on February 4; Paul Appleby, tenor, and Anne Larlee, piano, on February 11; Sir Thomas Allen, baritone, and Rachel Andrist, piano, on February 13; artists of the COC Ensemble Studio and the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal on February 20; the Capella Intima and the Toronto Continuo Collective with La Dafne by Gagliano on February 26. These recitals begin at 12 noon and end at 1pm. There will be additional performances of La Dafne on February 22 at the MacNeill Baptist Church, Hamilton, and February 23 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Other events: Opera in Concert will perform Hippolyte et Aricie by Rameau on February 2 at the Jane Mallett Theatre. The soloists are Meredith Hall, soprano, Allyson McHardy, mezzo, Colin Ainsworth, tenor, and Alain Coulombe, bass.

At the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music, Sir Thomas Allen will give the Geiger-Torel lecture in Walter Hall, February 3 and Tracy Dahl will be giving a masterclass in the Geiger-Torel Room, February 7.

The third concert of the Recitals at Rosedale series will take place at Rosedale Presbyterian Church on February 9 at 2:30. Its title is “Love...Actually” and it will feature Nathalie Paulin, soprano, Lauren Segal, mezzo, Zachary Finkelstein, tenor, and Anthony Cleverton, baritone.

Brenna MacCrimmon will sing new works inspired by Persian and Balkan traditions at Hugh’s Room on February 16. The concert will launch a new CD release by the Ladom Ensemble.

Catherine Arcand-Pinette, soprano, and Erika Bailey, alto, will be the soloists in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater at St. John’s United Church, Oakville, March 1 and March 2 at Mary Mother of God, also in Oakville.

A Postscript: In 2012 the competition for entry to the COC Ensemble Studio was held in the Richard Bradshaw Auditorium with piano accompaniment. Last November, for the first time, the competition took place on the main stage at the Four Seasons Centre with the COC orchestra under Johannes Debus. The soprano Karine Boucher, who had wowed the audience with a performance of an aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, won both the Jury and the Audience Prize. Second prize went to Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and third prize to the bass-baritone Iain MacNeil. All three will be members of the 2015/16 COC Ensemble Studio, where they will be joined by the collaborative pianist Jennifer Szeto.  

Hans de Groot is a concertgoer and active listener. He also sings and plays the recorder. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 


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