BWW Review: TSO Honours Maureen Forrester with Howard Shore Premiere and Mahler Favourite
One of the greatest Canadian voices in classical music, contralto Maureen Forrester was a legend. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra pays tribute to the beloved singer, in a concert of new works for Mezzo-soprano and one of Forrester's most memorable recital pieces, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth).
Hosted by Canadian tenor, Ben Heppner, the evening began with a brief Sesquie, Start by composer John Abram. The piece barely started before it abruptly ended - but it was the perfect introduction to the evening.
Then, award-winning film composer, Howard Shore joined conductor Peter Oundjian on stage to introduce the world premiere of his song cycle for Mezzo-soprano and Orchestra, L'Aube (The Dawn). Howard used five poems by Elizabeth Cotnoir for inspiration, introducing the piece by sharing, "[L'Aube is] the light after the darkness, hope, a new beginning - and renewal."
Howard's piece celebrates our earth, thanking the land, water, animals, plants, and our ancestors. Gentle-voiced mezzo-soprano Susan Platts led the orchestra through the song cycle, her voice flowing through the french prose.
The musical highlight of the evening followed with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). One of Forrester's most celebrated pieces, there are several iconic recordings of Forrester with various tenors. Personally, I spent the week obsessing over a 1960 recording of Forrester with tenor Richard Lewis and the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.
The expanded orchestra for the piece seemed to be too much for tenor Michael Schade, barely audible over the jubilant fanfare in the first section, Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde (The Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrow). Schade is an incredibly expressive singer, especially in the sprightly, Von der Jungen (Of Youth). Platts also took her time warming up to the piece, her covered sound (with a very well-balanced vibrato) was underwhelming until the gorgeous finale, Der Abschied (The Farewell). Nearly thirty minutes long, the symphony sounded absolutely magnificent, ending the evening on a high note.
During the evening, Heppner shares stories of Forrester's life, on and off the stage, including an adorable audio recording of an interview in which the singer explains that she nearly caused an international scandal by mixing up lines in a Beijing concert.
Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Forrester, or experiencing her artistry live - her legacy lives by sharing stories like this, during evenings like this.
You have one more chance to experience the Toronto Symphony's A TRIBUTE TO Maureen Forrester | Friday, October 20th at 7:30pm at Roy Thomson Hall
photo credit: Jag Gundu