May 2008

Talisker Players Chamber Music – The Voyage Out
May 27, 2008 Trinity St. Paul's United Church Toronto
Journeys of Exploration
by Francesco Emmanuel
In beautiful Trinity St. Paul's United Church, I came to hear the Talisker Players and a night of chamber music. Late I was in getting there, so much that I missed two readings — Travels with Herodotus (Ryszard Kapuscinski) and What Am I doing Here (Bruce Chatwin) as well as most of the opening musical suite — Daybreak and a Candle-End for baritone and string quartet (Derek Holman, text: William Butler Yeats).

I was allowed in just in time to hear "Sailing to Byzantium", the last piece of this first suite. Violins, viola, cello and bass accompanied a great baritone voice. The piece was quite melancholy, with soft pauses and subtle timing changes, mingling among diminished keys.

An excerpt from West with the Night (Beryl Markham) was read next, followed by the second suite — Songs of Travel for baritone, string quartet and piano (Ralph Vaughan Williams/arr. Harold Birston, text: Robert Louis Stevenson). Alexander Dobson’s voice was strong and deep, with excellent pronunciation. He proved a valiant performer, engaging the audience with animated eye movements. In a way, he was conducting the symphony. In between songs he had an air of yearning and confidence, quietly awaiting the introduction.

"Let Beauty Awake" in F# minor was next; the haunting vocal melody was accompanied by the violins and viola playing a triple melody line. "The Roadside Fire" was a running staccato violin piece, counteracted by long legato notes in C# major, each ‘verse’ was divided in polar-opposite rhythmical halves, the piano added just the right touch of notes for the outro.

In "Youth and Love" in G major, the strings played one after another with such timed precision that it gave the impression of a delay effect, when this culminated with a triple harmony, I was nonethewiser as to whom had initially started the ‘delay effect’. Suddenly the bridge erupted in grandeur and power and without warning the music descended into softness. "In Dreams" was written in diminished keys, sad and haunting, the stringed accompaniment held an excellent vibrato on the long pauses, making the tension ever more present. "Whither Must I Wander" was a contemplative piece with long melody lines held by the violins and violas and then the chorus building to a crescendo. The dynamics in this piece was truly amazing. The piano began forte on "Bright is the Ring of Words". The strings joined in and Alexander took the helm. At his command, it felt like a love song, but what struck me was the lack of repetition; there were no ‘sing-a-long’ choruses, no over-simplified lyrics. This was music from an era where substance overpowered form, not like today’s ‘artists’.

The show’s second half began with two readings that had my imagination running wild — The Horizontal Everest: Extreme Journeys on Ellesmere Island (Jerry Kobalenko) and the introduction to Passionate Vision (Roberta Bondar). Stewart Arnott was the reader and he did an excellent job of bringing these words to life.

The Adnan Songbook for soprano, 2 violas, cello, bass, clarinet and guitar (Gavin Bryars, text: Etel Adnan) was the final musical suite for the night. Once again the music swayed in and out of various key centers, relative minors were paired with their major counterparts, and parallel minors were used as occasional passing chords. There was no official ‘timekeeper’, but every musician knew their place as time signatures constantly changed throughout.

The songbook comprised of Songs I – VIII, the use of electric guitar was sparse, but added an additional layer to this ensemble. At times, the violins and viola were so haunting, that a ‘drone’ effect was given. Soprano Monica Whicher stood out in her aqua blue dress. She had a soothing but powerful voice, she held the notes long and true.

"Song IV" started off with the violins and viola prancing along in 6/8, Monica hit the upper threshold of notes and the accompaniment came to a gradual decrescendo.

"Song V" began soft and almost eerie, in what appeared to be another Minor 7th, flattened 5th key center, the strings did an exquisite vibrato, the clarinet held another uncanny note to end.

"Song VI" began with guitar and clarinet in D Minor, another sad piece, the words were a bit condescending, and a line was never repeated. Suddenly the piece began to switch keys quickly, truly a breath-taking run of notes.

"Song VII" started off in Bm, but then there was a flurry of notes, and each instrument broke off in a cacophony, I was lost and in awe. This music built such tension without any percussive instrumentation. The strings and woodwind at times held notes so long, that the notes fluttered like a frequency wave, it was absolutely amazing. The piece ended in Bsus4.

Finally "Song VIII" came, instruments followed each other, every one adding another piece to this 8-part cycle, as the piece and suite came to a close, Monica sang the last line "We are not scared".

The performances took place at the altar of the church; behind the performers was a fairly large pipe organ, a pulpit and a large bouquet of flowers. The large circular stained glass windows were simple and elegant. A huge chandelier of candles hung above the congregation, making a very cozy setting for this night of musical perfection. Not a single note was missed, even though in this comfortable setting there was minimal amplification, just two overhead mikes placed almost 5-feet away from the stage. The acoustics in the church were absolutely heavenly (pun intended).

The Performers
Monica Whicher, soprano
Alexander Dobson, baritone
Stewart Arnott, reader
Kevin Barrett, acoustic and electric guitar
Peter Longworth, piano

The Talisker Players
Valerie Sylvester & Kathryn Sugden, violins
Mary McGeer & Karen Moffat, violas
Laura Jones, cello
Eric Lee, bass
Peter Stoll, clarinet/bass clarinet


We welcome your comments and feedback
Francesco Emmanuel
• • • • • •
The Live Music Report
• •

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2008