Stanley Fefferman’s Chamberfest Diary, Friday, August 8

Noon, Friday, August 8, Ottawa  Chamberfest ’08

Our final day at Chamberfest opened wonderfully with a vocal recital by prizewinning soprano Martha Guth accompanied on piano by Erika Switzer and an ensemble of nine splendid chamber musicians. She warmed up with Ernest Chausson’s beautiful piano quintet “Chanson Perpétuelle, opus 37 (1898),” a declaration of love by an abandoned woman to her absent lover.  Guth’s singing was fluent and easy, her tone warm and rich in quality, so you became sensitive to her passion, and she possesses a lightness and control that prevents the feeling from cloying.

Shifting the mood from the melancholy to the magnificent, Ms. Guth, accompanied by the sensuous keyboard attack of Erika Switzer, gave us three songs by Debussy that exude in their undulating lines an exuberant, pagan, eroticism. “Chansons de Biltis” has as its subject the ‘Sapphic’ love of women and girls in which the hero, Bilitis undertakes an amatory journey with a faun that leads her to the ‘Tomb of the Naiads’ where she has a transcendent experience.  Ms. Guth seemed to be empowered by this music, taking us on a smooth ride to the tops of her remarkable range, leaving no doubt of her control, and just hinting at the awesome power she keeps in reserve.

Moving back into the darker mood, Ms. Guth selected a much admired work by the late American composer Earl Kim (1920-1998),  “Where Grief Slumbers,” that she performed largely a capella, sometimes assisted by a harp and string octet. Throughout this atonal suite based on poems by Rimbaud and Apollinaire, we heard contrasting and emotionally powerful songs sung in a voice in which deep emotion flowed like crystal water from a spring.

Martha Guth brought this recital to a joyful close accompanied by Ms. Switzer with Olivier Messiaen’s intensely lyrical paean to his wife and child “Chants de Terre et de Ciel.” Thundering ovation, particularly from our resident visiting Messiaen expert, Harry Halbreich.

5 pm, Friday, August 8, Ottawa  Chamberfest ’08

I Furiosi Baroque Ensemble is four of Canada’s leading early music specialists. Two of them, violinists Julia Wedman and Aislinn Nosky, are core members of Tafelmusik. Soprano Gabrielle McLaughlin and cellist/gambist Felix Deak are also connected to Tafelmusik. Feisty and humorous, I Furiosi have shed classical music’s image of bow-tie and starched suit in favour of their default Dominatrix gear. This evening they appear in hospital garb, –bandages and straightjackets and dollies–to perform a program from their new album “Crazy”– more than a dozen Baroque pieces “about craziness, by
crazy people and from the perspective of insane people”, including an out of period piece, “Suzanne,” by Leonard Cohen. Individually they play well, though I found Ms. McLaughlin’s singing on the shrill side. The asylum costuming and antics were mostly a distraction. I was touched by Mr. Deak’s solos, and the few bars that introduce “Suzanne”(which was beautifully done as an instrumental) always get me.

8 pm, Friday, August 8, Ottawa Chamberfest ’08.

This evening, and this Festival, ended for us on the highest possible note: superstar pianist Louise Bessette performing an entire programme of Messiaen, assisted by Robert Cram on flute, Estelle Lemire on Ondes Martenot, Benjamin Bowman and Donnie Deacon, violins, Theresa Rudolph,viola , and Timothy McCoy,cello.

Mme. Bessette performed the solo piano works “Prelude (1964)”, and “La fauvette des jardins (1970)”. She was joined by the string quartet for “Pièce for Piano and String Quartet (1991),” by Robert Cram for “La Merle Noir (1951),” and by Estelle Lemire for “Four Unpublished Works for Piano and Ondes Martenot.”

I had decided to relax for this concert and just let the music take me, away from my notepad, wherever it would lead. My memory is of an unbroken flow of of crystalline forms radiant with colour, rising like icebergs, calving like glaciers, palatial forms of luminous architecture manifesting from space and dissolving back into it, the creative process itself seen and heard as a co-emergent display beyond science and religion both.

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