Thursday, 10 January 2013

Live Review: The Musical Offering (April 21th 2012)

I attend a lot of classical music concerts in Winnipeg, many of which I write reviews of. I'm going to post these reviews on here, although first I'll post some older reviews before I post more recent reviews.

As Flows the Avon
The Musical Offering
April 21st
Three stars

Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch

The Musical Offering’s last regular concert of its 2011/12 season featured a programme highlighting Elizabethan music. Artistic Director and harpsichordist Sylvia Scott Wortley’s home makes for a wonderfully intimate concert setting, and each performance feels like a private recital in one’s own living room.

The Madrigal Singers – Zohreh Gervais, soprano; Susanne Reimer, mezzo-soprano; Lawrence Pauls, tenor; and Stephen Haiko, bass –began the afternoon with a gorgeous performance of April is in my Mistress’ Face by Thomas Morley. The foursome’s intricate harmonies made for an impressive start to the afternoon’s programme. Gervais’ sparkling soprano and Haiko’s rich, expansive bass were the indisputable standouts. Gervais returned later for an emotional rendition of As I Walk’d Forth by Robert Johnson, and Johnson’s lament for a lost love was heartbreaking when delivered in Gervais’ gorgeous and crystal-clear voice.

Wortley was joined by Micahel Cobus and Margaret McKenty on alto recorder to perform Two Duo Fantasias by Orlando Gibbons, and the trio’s smooth playing and natural chemistry made the work a treat to hear. Wortley took to the harpsichord alone to perform Gipseis Round by William Byrd, a piece originally written for virginal – an ancient box-like instrument with a similar sound. Her nimble playing brought the piece’s images of dancing gypsies and energetic rhythms to life. Paul Cowie provided entertaining interludes between pieces with his recitations of Shakespearean sonnets while dressed in full Elizabethan costume.

The lutanist Darren Smith, listed as featured artist, was unable to attend, an unfortunate absence that led to several changes in the program. Pieces promising his collaboration with the Madrigal Singers, such as Five knacks for ladies by John Dowland, were pleasing, but would have likely been more compelling with his accompaniment.

Despite its distinctive theme, the programme felt somewhat disjointed. In particular, Cowie’s readings, while enjoyable in themselves, were far too frequent. Placing the readings at the beginning and end of the concert would have allowed the musicians and singers –truly the stars of the afternoon – to shine even brighter.

The Musical Offering’s concerts provide a unique and personal connection between the artists and the audience, as well as a chance to hear compositions that rarely, if ever, get played. If they focus on the music that makes their programmes special, the Musical Offering’s performances may very well be one of the gems of Winnipeg’s chamber music season.

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