Tuesday, 16 August 2016

How to Charm an Audience: Suzie LeBlanc and/or The Gryphon Trio

The second week of the musical marathon that is the Tuckamore Festival is upon us.  But before week one fades from our memories I wanted to salute the soprano talents of Suzie LeBlanc.  Whether it was for her varied programs, Music From the 45th Parallel North or the lieder the following night, she completely charmed the audience.  LeBlanc has an enthusiastic way of inhabiting the music that is infectious and pulls the audience in as if they were co-conspirators along with Robert Kortgaard on piano or her other fellow performers.  Suzie had said that in preparation for the late night concert she was selecting some of her favourite pieces to perform.  It was only after she reviewed her list did the geographic denominator of the 45th Parallel become apparent.

It could be suggested that another theme was possible–and that would be the complimentary nature of opposites.  It was there in the call and response that she coaxed the audience into, the interspecies dating of "l'alouette et poisson", the bittersweet of "si dolce, il tormento" and the American celluloid, blue-eyed doll that is alternately loved and then hated.  And what better role for music than to convey the seemingly impossible, to stretch beyond the logical and literal?  And if you can, as LeBlanc did, give us a lesson in Canada's own musical heritage from Acadia all the better.

Jamie Parker of the Gryphon Trio has a similar way of making music approachable, of knocking the stuffing out of classical music repertoire.  The audience warmed to his comments that likened Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 66 as to "a Mission Impossible half an hour" complete with a car chase, romantic hotel scene, a trademark quasi presto and concluding with the special effects of a Bach chorale quote that ranged from the pious to the flashy and heroic. 

What was striking was that whether it was Debussy or the compositions of our very own Andrew Staniland the Gryphon Trio has an unusually, cohesive sound.  Never do you hear one lead instrument with a back up of two others.  Rather, it is one integrated sound.  Staniland was represented by two selections:  14 Seconds from the Dark Star Requiem and the Solstice Songs.  14 Seconds started without fanfare but became more insistent and grew more urgent.  The composer in his opening remarks told the audience that he wanted us to be left with a feeling of hope in the face of the world's disasters (the title was sparked by the statistic that at one point every 14 seconds someone had died of a HIV/AIDS). 

Given the program notes that described Solstice Songs by Staniland as "lively, dance-like" the audience might have expected something pleasantly common.  Instead, we were delighted with a composition that ascended and cascaded with vigor, tumbling and at times turbulent!  How many memorable evenings can our memories accommodate?

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