Celebrating Spring 2015 on a High Note
Almonte in Concert’s loyal audiences enjoyed the return of its acclaimed concert series, inaugurated by Julie Nesrallah, dazzling mezzo-soprano and engaging host of CBC Radio Two’s national classical music program Tempo, renowned harpist Caroline Léonardelli, and the much sought-after collaborative pianist Parvaneh Eshghi. Nesrallah and Léonardelli are no strangers to Almonte: this upcoming performance is one of many return appearances with the long-standing series. On Saturday, April 30th 2015 at 7:30 p.m. in Almonte’s Old Town Hall, the three thoughtful and captivating artists will present an exquisite programme of works by French, Italian, Spanish, and South American composers.
The concert, titled “Spirit and Spring”, includes four beautiful song cycles: La regata veneziana (Gioacchino Rossini), Siete canciones populares españolas (Manuel de Falla), Cinq mélodies populaires grecques (Maurice Ravel), Cinco canciones negras (Xavier Montsalvatge); individual songs by Reynaldo Hahn (À Chloris and L’énamourée), Marcel Tournier (La lettre du jardinier), Claude Debussy (Fleur des blés and Beau soir); as well as Tournier’s entrancing Féerie for solo harp. An entertaining ‘encore’ which of course must remain a secret until it is performed, will complete the evening at the audience’s demand. We can, however, reveal that it will be passionate, seductive, even sizzling.
Art songs based on folk traditions are the substance of Rossini’s delightful song cycle La regata veneziana (The Venetian Regatta), which Rossini intended as entertainment for his guests on musical evenings. Simple and full of ‘joie de vivre’, the story unfolds like a miniature opera: Anzoleta watches and waves from her window as her lover Momolo glides to the starting line with his gondola; with uncontrolled emotion, she anxiously follows his progress during the regatta; finally, she presents the winner’s trophy to him, covering her hero with kisses. Falla’s Siete canciones populares españolas (Seven Spanish Folk Songs) are a ravishing combination of beautiful melodies, dynamic rhythms, and rich harmonies from both the north and south of Spain. The immense popularity of this cycle is evident from the substantial number of transcriptions that were subsequently made. Ravel’s settings of the Cinq mélodies populaires grecques (Five Greek Folk Songs) are direct, unadorned, and unpretentious, rendering the charm of these rustic melodies as they were created. Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras (Five Black Songs), settings of poems from the Caribbean, Spain, and the West Indies, is one of this composer’s most popular collections.
Hahn’s À Chloris and L’énamourée admirably tap the emotional substance of their poetic texts. Tournier’s La lettre du jardinier (The Gardener’s Letter) charmingly sets Henry Bataille’s words of gentle seduction in a letter describing a garden full of flowers and beauty that awaits only Mademoiselle’s return to complete its joy. Debussy’s Fleur des blés (Wheat Flower), one of this composer’s earliest songs, exemplifies French Romanticism. A young lover compares his beloved to the beautiful bouquet that he has gathered for her, insisting that she fasten the flowers to her bodice, as the ears of wheat are like her golden hair, the poppies like her ruby lips, and the cornflowers like her azure eyes. Beau soir (Beautiful Evening) was Debussy’s second published song, and in spite of its seemingly optimistic title, conveys Paul Bourget’s poem in which happiness turns to sorrow, and life leads to death.
The only purely instrumental work on this inaugural programme is Marcel Tournier’s Féerie, which the composer dedicated to his teacher Alphonse Hasselmans. This work is an important addition to the repertoire for solo harp, vastly expanding the instrument’s technical and harmonic possibilities. In addition to the delicacy and refined musicality that we expect from Tournier, his works are also known for their highly challenging demands on the performer. Indeed, it comes as no great surprise that his works for harp figure prominently in professional competitions; Tournier himself was awarded Second Grand Prize at the Prix de Rome in 1909.