BergeronSylvain BergeronThe lute, the archlute and the theorbo are soft instruments and it needs an exceptional player like Paul O'Dette or Jakob Lindberg to make a solo recital work. In Canada we are fortunate to have two such players: Lucas Harris and Sylvain Bergeron. Harris is based in Toronto and we have in recent years been able to hear him play with ensembles like Tafelmusik. Bergeron lives in Montreal but he too has often played in Toronto, with Tafelmusik and the Canadian Opera Company among others. This concert at St. David’s Anglican Church on January 10, however, was his first solo recital in Toronto. As he himself wryly put it: "Better late than never."

The contents of his program were contained in the early 17th century manuscript lute book of Gioseppe Antonio Doni, preserved in Perugia. Not much is known about Doni but he appears to have been an amateur player who wrote down pieces that he could use as exercises. Many of these are anonymous compositions but there are also movements by Andrea Falconieri, Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger and Arcangelo Lori. Many  are dances (galliards and courantes); others are chaconnes and toccatas, with one passacaglia.

In his recital Bergeron followed the format of his recent ATMA CD, Livre de Luth de Gioseppe Antonio Doni. Of the almost 100 pieces in the Doni Manuscript, he chose 25, He grouped the music in five sections, according to their tonality: F Major, G Minor, B-flat Major, G Minor again and C Minor. Restricting himself to flat keys, he pointed out, meant that he did not have to retune after each suite. What I carried away from the recital more than anything else were Bergeron's superb sense of rhythm, his sensitiveness of touch and the expressiveness of his playing. Thirty or 40 years ago early music performances tended to be strictly metrical. Now rubato is no longer a dirty word and, provided there is a clear sense of the underlying beat, the kind of rhythmic flexibility which Bergeron provided is to be welcomed.

These hour-long concerts are presented by the Toronto Early Music Centre (PWYC). In the next recital on January 31at 2:30pm, Patricia Ahern will perform solo violin works of the German Baroque: Bach’s Partita No. 2 and Telemann’s Fantasies Nos. 8 and 9.

BravissimoKrisztina SzabóFor several years Roy Thomson Hall and Attila Glatz Productions have jointly presented “Bravissimo,” a program of the most famous arias, ensembles and choruses in opera, on New Year's Eve. Care has always been taken to achieve a balance between Canadian performers (usually well-known to Toronto audiences) and foreign singers (generally new to Toronto). This year the number of soloists was pared down to four, one for each voice category.

The most impressive of the singers was the mezzo Krisztina Szabó. We have heard her a number of times in the last few seasons, with the Canadian Opera Company (in Schoenberg's Erwartung and, more recently, in the COC's triple bill of Monteverdi and Monk Feldman) and with Against the Grain Theatre (in their Schubert-Messiaen program). This recent concert, on December 31, 2015, gave us an opportunity to hear her in more familiar repertoire. That included Musetta's Waltz from Puccini's La Bohème, a role more usually sung by a soprano (although it is in Szabó's repertoire) as well as the Habanera and the Seguidilla from Bizet's Carmen. What a formidable Carmen she would make! She sang the middle line in Mozart's Soave sia il vento from the first act of Così fan tutte and the lower part of the Flower Duet from Delibes' Lakmé. In both cases she gave her part a stronger vocal presence than is normally the case in performance.

The soprano Karina Gauvin has not performed in Toronto for some time and her return was a pleasure. She is noted for her Handel and Mozart and there was a great deal of Mozart and one Handel aria (the first time Handel has been featured in a “Bravissimo” program) but there was also Delibes' Flower Duet as well as O mio babbino caro from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. The baritone, Lucio Gallo, impressed me, particularly in Iago's Credo from Verdi's Otello and in Scarpia's monologue Tre sbirri from Puccini's Tosca. I was less impressed by the tenor, Stefano La Colla. He gave a strong performance of Calaf's aria, Nessun dorma, from Puccini's Turandot, with a good sense of dynamics but elsewhere his singing was unremittingly loud. Verdi's Celeste Aida suffered especially.

Orchestra and chorus were good. They could be described as ad hoc ensembles but a look at the cast list would indicate that most of their members came from the COC Orchestra or Chorus. There were several encores, the last of which was Auld Lang Syne. In the past that was merrily sung by the Canadian singers as well as by many in the audience. The Italian singers were generally noplussed, however, by that exotic tune. This year La Colla and Gallo were carefully briefed. That made sense, though I regret the passing of a quaint older tradition.

BerliozPaxStephanie MartinFew musicians have made the contribution to Toronto's musical life in the last 30 years that Stephanie Martin has: as a keyboard player, singer, teacher and composer. As the conductor of the Pax Christi Chorale, she has given us performances of a number of little-known works such as Elgar's The Kingdom and Parry's Judith.

L'enfance du Christ by Berlioz is better known than either of these; yet chances to hear a live performance in Toronto, and I suspect in English Canada, have been few. I suspect that one of the reasons for this is the difficulty of finding singers who can handle the French text with ease. In the performances of it at Grace Church-on-the-Hill, December 5 and 6, that problem was avoided as three of the solo parts were sung by outstanding French-Canadian singers: the soprano, Nathalie Paulin, as the Virgin Mary, the bass, Alain Coulombe, in the role of the charitable Ishmaelite (as well as in the smaller part of the patrol commander Polydorus); and the baritone, Olivier Laquerre, as Herod. The other two parts were taken by the tenor, Sean Clark (in the major role of the Narrator and the smaller role of the Centurion), and the baritone, Matthew Zadow (as Joseph). They too were very fine (and their French was excellent).

The printed program placed the story of the flight to Egypt in the context of the present Syrian refugee crisis. Insisting on a work's topicality is often rather forced, but in this case it was entirely justified.

Musically the performance I attended December 6 was a triumph. The work was quite rightly given without intermission and accordingly had real momentum. The finest moments were the duets between Marie and Joseph in scene five and the interchange between tenor and chorus at the end. The orchestra could be described as a pick-up group but it included several well-known Toronto musicians and the combined effect of solo singers, choir and instrumentalists was entirely successful.

My only reservation pertains to the dances. I liked the dancers well enough and the choreography was inventive but I was not convinced that the dances added much to the audience's experience. On one occasion, during the lovely trio for two flutes and harp, the dance was rather distracting.

NaganoKent Nagano

If there is a connection between these two stellar concerts in the last week of November -- the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) and the Apollon Musagète Quartet -- perhaps it’s that the OSM’s concertmaster Andrew Wan and principal cellist Brian Manker are themselves members of a notable string quartet, the New Orford. Or perhaps it’s because the OSM’s transparency and sense of ensemble, on display in their Roy Thomson Hall concert November 25, in portions of  Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra and Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10 in E Minor, Op.93, are qualities characteristic of the best string quartets.

The OSM evening began with the Suite for Orchestra, Harpsichord and Organ, a selection of four movements taken from Bach’s Orchestral Suites Nos.2 and 3 and arranged by Mahler. In fact, at the world premiere in 1909, Mahler himself conducted the New York Philharmonic from the harpsichord; Kent Nagano chose to conduct the OSM from the podium without a baton.

Read more: Concert Report: OSM at RTH; Apollon Musagète Quartet at Music Toronto
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