Coming close to baritone bliss

Photo Credit: Sim Canetty-ClarkeI attended the TSO event yesterday featuring Gerald Finley. I have followed his career with interest, if for no other reason than that we were in the same high school class. I heard him sing at the Westben Arts Festival last summer and it was a wonderful, moving, concert. I missed his performance in Dr. Atomic in Atlanta by a couple of weeks when we moved back to Toronto.

Last night, the main event was the Brahms German Requiem, Op. 45. where he was joined by Soprano Klara Ek and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. I was not familiar with much of this work except for the Mäßig bewegt (How wonderful are thy tabernacles), a choral piece that I have sung in the past. Finley did a wonderful job, although the solo parts are small. The choir was great. I wasn’t enamoured of the soprano, although excerpts I’ve listened to online are wonderful.

The first half of the program was the Canadian premiere of “Songs of Love and Sorrow” written by Peter Lieberson based on poems by Pablo Neruda. This work was premiered by Finley in Boston in 2010, and conductor Peter Oundjian noted that they were written with Finley in mind. The story behind this and Lieberson’s previous song cycle “Neruda Songs” is very touching. There is some beautiful music here and a program insert provided the text and translation for the songs, which is very powerful.

Full woman, carnal apple, hot moon, thick smell of seaweed, mud, and light in masquerade, what secret clarity opens up between your columns?
What ancient night does man touch with his senses?

Finley’s voice is so pure and strong. He sang with much emotion. This may be anathema for some, but I wish that there had been surtitles during the performance. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage to peer at the text in my program in the dim light of the hall. But I believe my experience would have been improved with a sense of the meaning of the songs during the performance.

My companion felt that the work was a bit monotonous and I’d have to agree, possibly due to the above. Finley’s voice was sometimes swallowed up by the much-reduced orchestra behind him.

I would have to say that the Westben performance gave so much more of Finley. It was a selection of favourites from the song repertoire and was in a much more intimate setting, possibly a better way to experience what Oundjian called “one of the most extraordinary voices to hit the planet.”

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