That Erik Ross piece for soprano and saxophone that Erin Bardua described as the “greatest challenge of her singing life”? It’s spectacular. It consists of two songs — Carl Wilson-authored “Concrete ConcerT.O.” which uses a limited set of words for their musicality (all are variations on Concrete and Toronto), and Darrell O’Donnell’s “I am Concrete”, written from the perspective of a slab of concrete inviting human touch. Both the instrument (Peter Stoll) and the voice extend themselves to many risky areas, but the risk pays off massively. Both songs are thrilling pieces in which the singer and the instrumentalist keep distinct voices, with a lot of dissonance, but also accord, and quite a bit of really attractive and thoroughly musical screaming.
(According to the program, Concrete Toronto was first performed by Carla Huhtanen and Wallace Halladay at the SoundaXis Festival in the Music Gallery, at an event dedicated to the book of the same name. Which it just so happens I have on my shelves–it’s fantastic. Concrete Toronto: A Guidebook to Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies, by Michael McClellan and Graeme Stewart (editors), Steven Ho Yin Chong (designer), ERA & Coach House Books 2007.)
But there was much else interesting in the program. Vicki St. Pierre got the most populist and funnest fare of the three principal singers, and she delivered it all with her customary charm. The Viennese folk songs (all very waltzy), and the Venetian Boat Song of the Victorian London were melodic, singable numbers with refrains. In the Vienna segment, there is a lot of German text in need of interpretation and inflection, but none of that seemed effortful to St. Pierre. For the final number, the excerpts from Andrew Ager’s Ellis Portal, St. Pierre’s voice blended really well with Joel Allison’s and with each individual instrument that accompanied the two singers in this suite about various experiences one encounters in Toronto — “The Queen Car at Night”, “The David Dunlap Observatory” etc. The work was originally commissioned by the Talisker Players itself and first performed in 2002.
“Les cris de Paris” was as ludique as you’d expect it to be. (Bardua and Allison were joined by mezzo Rebecca Claborn and tenor Christopher Jääskeläinen for this one.) The Bernstein segment from On the Town was largely the baritone’s, except for the “Come Up to My Place” where Allison was joined by Bardua. They both showed what they can do as actors in this one.
Those who enjoy being read to will enjoy the selection of texts read between the songs — I tend to tune out when being read to, and use these segments to catch up on my program reading, or check out the translation of the songs coming (so you can follow the original text as the singer is saying it). The literary bits are carefully curated and pertinent, but I wonder if having them delivered by heart might work better.
And as is now usual for Talisker concerts, special thanks must go to the creator of the printed program (artistic director Mary McGeer, I expect?). The program always contains full songs with translations into English, and a really informative intro to each item on the program.
One performance remaining: October 30 8pm at the newly renovated Trinity-St. Paul. Details
Meanwhile, Cris de Paris, performed by Ensemble Clément Janequin: