MARION NEWMAN by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, April 26, 2007
Walter Hall, University of Toronto

Marion Newman’s voice flows among the deft piano stylings of Gregory Oh like a deep river moving through a delta towards the open sea.

She is equally at home performing in the idioms of Ojibwe/Odawa and Salish languages as she is in the European artsong languages of Chausson, Britten and Mahler.

Ms. Newman’s remarkably flexible vocalizations reflect the different cultural traditions of her material; her ability to go deeply into a role and remain there until the song is over gives her recital an endearing continuity.

She can be a mother singing her child to sleep, as in her own composition, “Kinanu”, in which she accompanies herself on a frame drum, her voice flattened and somewhat desaturated in the direction of parchment.

She can be the fin de siecle French lover whose song is sensitive as a butterfly but who sings in a voice rich in tones of seduction towards the erotic.

The Major work in this recital is the premiere of Barbara Croall’s song cycle in seven movements entitled “BIGIIWE” (She is Coming Home), commissioned by The Women’s Musical Club of Toronto and sponsored by Roger D. Moore.

Ms. Newman opens “BIGIIWE” with groans, yips, accompanying herself with a rattle and a string of shells; sometimes she whistles, sometimes she talks, mostly in the Ottawa language, but also in vernacular street English; sometimes she uses the voice of a European mezzo-soprano, and sometimes she simplifies to an earthy aboriginal chant free of vibrato.

Gregory Oh’s piano tinkles and thunders, jangles its scraped strings, peals out church bells and pounding, dark chords of doom. Piano and voice engage ecletic sonorities to tell the legend of the little girl Anangoons, how she is born and raised inside Anishnaabe culture, how she is separated from her mother and taken to a church school where she is shamed by the priest, and finally how she and her baby are led by a bird out of the labyrinth back to her home.

The mothering theme continued after intermission with 5 songs from Benjamin Britten’s “A Charm of Lullabies, Op.41”, settings of poems by William Blake, Robbie Burns, Robert Greene and others. These dissonant lullabies are harsh and far from charming.

There was magic in the collaboration of voice and piano during the concluding performance of Mahler’s introverted love song cycle “Funf Ruckert Lieder”. Gregory Oh clearly felt Mahler’s flowing melodies, and the warm richness of Marion Newman’s vocal colours opened space after space of feelings extenuated to the verges of pain.

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