Concert review: Shakespeare is immortal but musical settings imperfect in Talisker programme

The Talisker Players at a previous Trinity-St. Paul's Centre concert.

We’re coming up on the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare in 2016. Despite the fact that we would not recognize each other’s worlds, the words he used to navigate his have proved to be not only timeless, but continue to inspire new ways of presenting them to new audiences.

Working together with actor Graham Abbey and his Groundling Theatre Company, as well as mezzo-soprano Norine Burgess, Talisker Players close their musical season at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre with a programme that puts fresh spins on the Bard’s plays and poetry — with mixed results.

The first performance of the programme, on Tuesday night, was marred on several occasions by performances from the Talisker’s three string players that sounded distinctly under-rehearsed. Perhaps their playing will improve for Wednesday evening’s repeat.

The mix of words and music divides the programme into two distinct parts. The first focuses on contemporary song settings, engagingly sung by Burgess, who used her rich, ample mezzo to its best advantage.

Canadian settings Jean Coulthard, Mark Richards and Alexander Rapoport’s were joined by pieces by Igor Stravinsky and British composer Howard Blake.

Rapoport’s four song settings, collected as Shapespeare’s Aviary, featured a colourfully inventive accompaniment nicely rendered by pianist Peter Longworth, Peter Stoll on clarinet and violist Mary McGeer.

Also beguiling are Blake’s settings, which come from a 1985 Royal Shakespeare Company production of As You Like It.

Stravinsky’s three songs, written in 1954, are not his finest work, even managing to drain Shakespeare’s lyrics of their natural musicality in the process.

The second half of the programme placed the musicians in the background, bringing Abbey to the fore with fellow actors Nigel Bennett, Rosemary Dunsmore, Sophie Goulet and Gareth Potter.

They read their way through some highlights of Shakespeare’s history plays (Richard II, Henry IV, parts I and II, and Henry V) while the Taliskers offered up aptly placed and cleverly chosen bits of Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

The result was effective, deftly interveaving words and music as well as mood and cadence into a nicely textured dramatic tapestry.

Overall, the evening was not perfect, but the power of Shakespeare’s words, so carefully chosen by the people on stage, made for a thought-provoking and, ultimately, satisfying experience.

For more concert details, click here.

John Terauds


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