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City of the Mind

The Trinity-St. Paul's Centre
10/29/2013 -  & October 30, 2013
Leonard Bernstein (arr. Laura Jones): On the Town (excerpts)
Tommaso Giordani: Addio di Londra
Ludwig Grüber, Karl Föderl, Johann Sioly, Rudolf Sieczynski (arr. L. Jones): Wienerlieder (selections)
Clément Janequin: Les Cris de Paris
Jacques Blumenthal: Venetian Boat Song
Erik Ross: Concrete Toronto
Andrew Ager: Ellis Portal (excerpts)

Erin Baruda (soprano), Vicki St. Pierre, Rebecca Claborn (mezzo-sopranos), Christopher Jääskeläinen (tenor), Joel Allison (baritone)
The Talisker Players

V. St. Pierre (Courtesy of the Talisker Players)

The Talisker Players are a group of 13 instrumentalists whose specialty is performing eclectic thematic musical programs with narration. This program, entitled City of the Mind (and subtitled “The Beauty and Madness of Cities”) featured writers on six cities: New York (Michele Landsberg), London (Henry James), Vienna (Edmund de Waal), Paris (Edmund White), Venice (Lord Byron), and Toronto (Shawn Micallef and John Bentley Mays), with music from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

Players assembled for the concert were Kathryn Sugden and Elyssa Lefurgey-Smith, violins; Mary McGeer (viola), Rebecca Morton (cello), Peter Stoll (clarinet and saxophone), and David Sandall (piano and harpsichord). Readings were by John Fraser, the Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. His reading was decent enough but could have used a dash of theatricality.

The three excerpts from Bernstein’s On the Town were “New York, New York”, “Come up to My Place”, and “Lonely Town”. Talisker member Laura Jones’ arrangement for string quartet lacked weight (no surprise) even with the players’ game attitude. However it worked very nicely for the wistful introduction to “Lonely Town”. Young baritone Joel Allison (new to Toronto audiences as far as I can tell) has a well-focused voice and really seized the day, although his dependence on the score signalled lack of rehearsal, a problem evident throughout the evening. Erin Bardua displayed lively personality as the flirtatious taxi-driver in the second number, but it really needs someone with a lot of Broadway brass in the voice.

Tommaso Giordani was from Naples and one of the many composers who joined the cosmopolitan musical maelstrom of London (and Dublin) in the mid-1700s. His “Addio di Londra” (1773) is a parodistic dramatic cantata commemorating the departure from London of a German “daughter of Terpsichore”, one Anna Frederike Heinel. It’s form is recitative-aria-recitative-aria and it proved a good showcase for Erin Bardua. The uncertain start to each section, however, was further evidence of inadequate rehearsal.

Vienna was represented by four of the popular Wienerlieder, of which there are an estimated 60,000 (!) or so. The translated titles of the four, charmingly sung by Vicki St. Pierre, were “My Mother was a Viennese Lady”, “That Sounds like a Fairy Tale from Vienna”, “That Wasn’t Written by a Goethe, nor by a Schiller Penned”, and , most famous of all, “Vienna, City of my Dreams”. Schmaltzy? You bet! - but Ms St. Pierre’s good-humoured enjoyment of the songs, accompanied by string trio and clarinet, helped put them across.

We then took a big step back in time to Clément Janequin’s lively chanson “Les Cris de Paris”, which contains some forty shouts from various street merchants selling turnips, tartlets, herring, old shoes..., arranged for four voices and strings. Very nicely done.

Venice was represented by a faux-Venetian “Barcarola Veneziana” by Jacques Blumenthal, a German with French musical education who settled in London in 1848, became Queen Victoria’s pianist, and started turning out pieces for the vast parlour song market of the day. A charming bit of fluff, once again adroitly presented by Vicki St. Pierre.

Toronto was represented by two sets of songs. Erik Ross’s Concrete Toronto was inspired by a book of the same name (published 2007) that celebrates the brutalist architecture of the 1970s, an expansive decade in the city’s history. If “Concrete ConcerT.O” for soprano and saxophone seeks to win over the multitude of concretophobes I suspect it is doomed to failure. The words by Carl Wilson contain only the six letters contained in the title, and soprano and sax seem to be having a vicious domestic argument. The following “I am Concrete” defiantly celebrates the abrasive nature of the material with appropriately grating music.

The concert ended with four excerpts from Andrew Ager’s suite of songs Ellis Portal, commissioned and premiered by the Talisker Players in 2002. Vicki St. Pierre and Joel Allison, accompanied by string quartet and clarinet, did a fine job despite the triteness of some of the material (for example “Queen Car”, about a nighttime streetcar ride). The others were “David Dunlap Observatory”, “Toronto in Winter” and the final duet, “Three A.M.”, which made for a satisfying conclusion.

Michael Johnson



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