Shannon Mercer’s Music in the Afternoon reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, March 6, Walter Hall, Toronto

Shannon Mercer, soprano, and Steven Philcox, piano, performed a generous, hand-in-glove 24 song recital. Ms. Mercer sang in five languages other than English, mostly sad songs, because they were love songs, though thank goodness for the French who know how to be lively even while love is unrequited.

At the start of each song, Ms. Shannon seems to empty herself of affect and locks onto a character, staying fully ‘in character’ until the end of the song. For the most part, the programme called forth serious, sad faced, disappointed-looking personae who held themselves like statues. It was a great and pleasant surprise to see how animated and feisty and fun she could be during the hilarious encore entitled, “I’m tone deaf.”

Her voice is rich, clear, flexible and satisfies the needs of each song. The recital began, affectingly, with Mozart’s concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” in which the woman assures her lover that she will not give herself to another and forget him despite his suggestion that she do. There follows Ms. Shannon’s portrayals of characters from Schumann’s “Liederkries, Op.39”: a woman who can only dream of her lover, the witch Lorelei misleading a knight in a cold wood, a weeping bride, and a lover wandering alone in a starlit wood.

Bellini’s chamber songs for voice and piano “Sei arriette” have the lilt and flow of Italian, are highly dramatic and operatic in their portrayal of amorous melancholy and longing for death. These also were presented rich in their beauty, but it was not until Ravel’s “Vocalize-étude,” and Bizet’s “Ouvre ton coeur” that the Ms. Mercer’s demeanor was allowed to melt into gestures and smiles.

Leaving the question of demeanor aside, we enjoyed her musicianship and the interpretive acumen she showed during this recital. Technically, Ms. Mercer seemed to have everything: impeccable diction, a remarkable evenness of tone through her entire range, the flexibility and sense of color that allowed her to move easily from the refined world of Poulenc’s ”Metamorphoses” to the more vernacular, theatrical styles demanded by Walton’s ”Three Songs”, especially ‘Old Sir Faulk’ with a touch of ragtime in the music and “ a touch of lunacy” in the text.

Ms. Mercer is the latest recipient of the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto Career Development Award, and this recital was clearly an opportunity for a display of enthusiastic mutual appreciation between artist and sponsor.

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