Summer music festivals: Highlights for the week of July 16


André Laplante opens the Toronto Summer Music Festival at Koerner Hall on Tuesday (Samira Bouaou photo).

Toronto Summer Music Festival artistic director Douglas McNabney has come up with such a strong list of performers for this year’s edition that there isn’t a single concert that isn’t worth attending.

There is something worthwhile every day, including events related to the academy side of the three-week event, such as a masterclass on Thursday morning by baritone Gerald Finley.

But the first two concerts, both by absolute masters of their craft, are especially noteworthy. (For all the details on the festival’s concert’s, click here):

  • Tuesday, July 17: Pianist André Laplante at Koerner Hall, 7:30 p.m.

Here is a pianist’s pianist, a veteran performer who long ago turned his back on a globetrotting concert life to focus on the making and teaching of music that is important to him. Laplante opened the very first Toronto Summer Music Festival, as he does this year’s, because he embodies an absolute dedication to his craft. The results are usually very impressive.

This year’s programme is a a fascinating mix of brashness and colour, starting with Ferrucio Busoni’s transcription of J.S. Bach’s very familiar D-minor Toccata, followed by Oiseaux tristes, La Vallée des cloches, and Sonatine by Maurice Ravel, Canadian composer François Morel’s Deux études de sonorité, and Années de pèlerinage, Premiere année: Suisse by Franz Liszt.

In case you need convincing, here is Laplante’s magical interpretation of Une barque sur l’océan, from Ravel’s Miroirs, followed by a Sergei Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique:

  • Wednesday, July 18: Baritone Gerald Finley at Koerner Hall, 7:30 p.m.

Gerald Finley

Okay, here is our one, great summertime opportunity to prove that the art-song recital is worth programming on a Toronto mainstage, as Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley returns one last time this year for a solo programme at Koerner Hall with the Aldeburgh Connection’s Stephen Ralls at the piano.

The recital is a mix of of folk-inspired styles that includes song cycles by Robert Schumann, Benjamin Britten and Edvard Grieg, as well as Arthur Sullivan’s so-awful-it’s-hilarious The Lost Chord. (Finley also sings a more operatic programme at Westben on Sunday — see below.)

Here is Finley singing Schumann’s “Dein Angesicht so lieb und schön” with Julius Drake, followed by the great little scene “Lassen Sie ihn gewähren par,” from the 2004 Metrpolitan Opera production of Capriccio, by Richard Strauss (neither of which we’ll hear in concert):

SOUTHERN ONTARIO

In principle, any of these concerts is worth the drive, but keep in mind that, if you’re coming from Toronto, rush-hour traffic and a long list of highway construction delays on the way back are frustrating.

MUSIC NIAGARA

  • Tonight, at St Mark’s Anglican Church, at 7:30 p.m., soprano Grace Lee, pianist Michael Berkovsky and Music Niagara founding artistic director (and Toronto Symphony Orchestra first violinist) Atis Bankas provide the musical examples in the second-annual Great Debate, where the five-member panel of experts and fans (including former Toronto Star critic William Littler and the CBC’s Tom Allen and Rick Phillips) discuss the merits of the musics of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
  • Thursday, the renowned Borodin Quartet makes its first area tour stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, at St Marks, also at 7:30 p.m. They bring an all-Russian Romantic programme of music by Peter Ilytch Tchaikovsky (Quartettsatz and String Quartet No. 3) and Mikhail Glinka (String Quartet No. 2).

For all the details on the festival’s concerts, click here.

ELORA FESTIVAL

  • Thursday, at St John’s Church, at 8 p.m., the Elora Festival Singers and artistic director Noel Edison present choral music of Francis Poulenc — the Mass setting in G major, sets of motets for Lent and Christmas, as well as seven secular songs. (For all the details on the festival’s concerts, click here.) Here is one of the most popular of the Christmas motets, O Magnum mysterium, led by the late, great Robert Shaw:

STRATFORD SUMMER MUSIC

  • Jan Lisiecki, the 17-year-old Calgarian pianist who is turning heads in the classic music world, presents three very different hour-long recitals at St Andrew’s Church at 11:15 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I’ll have more on him tomorrow.
  • Sunday, at Stratford City Hall, at 8 p.m., as part of their globe-circling “farewell tour,” Ted Dystra and Richard Grenblatt present a concert version of their hit play, Two Pianos, Four Hands.

For all the details on the festival’s concerts, click here.

WESTBEN

  • Saturday, at the bucolic Festival Barn just outside Campbellford, at 2 p.m., Toronto-based soprano Virginia Hatfield, an alumna of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, leads an ensemble concert of popular operatic music inspired by Viennese impresario and manager Emmanual Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto for Mozart’s Magic Flute.
  • Sunday, at 2 p.m., Gerald Finley sings a selection of favourite opera arias and Broadway songs, accompanied by his cousin Brian Finley, co-founder of the Westben Festival.

For all the details on the festival’s concerts, click here.

John Terauds

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