Singer shines in her Music Toronto debut
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 16, 2008
Zorana Sadiq, soprano
Peter Tiefenbach, piano
Shawn Mativetsky, tabla
At Jane Mallett Theatre in Toronto on Thursday
Zorana Sadiq, a lovely and lively young soprano born in Toronto and trained here and in Montreal and the United States, made her Music Toronto debut Thursday in a restless recital with the versatile pianist Peter Tiefenbach. Tabla player Shawn Mativetsky joined the duo for the final item of the evening - two Songs of Ecstasy by Shirish Korde, having their premiere on this occasion. As musical matter, the program was eclectic and plucky rather than thoroughly enthralling, but Sadiq's vivacity and her secure musicality, combined with a strong communicative instinct, saw her through.
The evening's best music was Six Lieder, Op. 48, by the great Norwegian miniaturist Edvard Grieg, and a single long song - Lua descolorida (Colourless Moon) by the Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. In the Golijov and the Grieg songs, the singer used her rather girlish sound (not unlike that of the young Dawn Upshaw, for whom the Golijov was composed) in an unforced and unaffected way that allowed the songs to radiate from within. Each had its intensity, its meaning and its musical grace without any sense of vocal "painting" or posturing, beautifully abetted by Tiefenbach's sure and delicate handling of the piano's role.
The two big sets of songs bookending the intermission, one heavy, the other light, were the disappointments of the evening in spite of valiant work by the two performers. Olivier Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi, Second Book, reiterates its trademark cluster-chords endlessly and with ever-diminishing results. Ottorino Respighi's Deita Silvane (Woodland Deities) is long and fussy and musically inconsequential.
In the first half of the program, between the Grieg and the Messiaen, we had Found Frozen: Three Poems of Helen Hunt Jackson in settings by Jeffrey Ryan, composer-adviser to Music Toronto. The poems by Jackson, a gifted contemporary of Emily Dickinson, are vigorous, handsome lyrics, but Ryan's settings treated them all as melodramas. Sadiq did her best to disarm that aspect of their force and convey the subtler elements in the verse, but she could only do so much with Ryan's jagged vocal lines.
After the Respighi in the second half came the remarkably beautiful and touching Golijov song. The composer has written poetically about it, saying "The song is at once a slow-motion ride on a cosmic horse, an homage to Couperin's melismas in his Lessons of Tenebrae, and velvet bells coming from three different churches." The text is by the 19th-century poet Rosalia de Castro. Sadiq and Tiefenbach conveyed all the spacious, quiet rapture of verse and music with serene assurance.
Tiefenbach's settings of six rather rude nursery rhymes brought us hilariously down to earth after the Golijov. Tiefenbach has the gift of wry comedy, as his nifty creations for Canada's much-enjoyed primadonna-on-a-moose, Mary Lou Fallis, have proved. The Six Nursery Rhymes, which he composed 20 years ago, are a hoot and a blast (except for the lovely fifth song, a genuine lullaby), and Sadiq entered fully into their inspired nonsense.
After them, all that remained were the Indian-Ugandan composer Korde's two Songs of Ecstasy, works-in-progress having their first hearing. These are striking affairs, the second on syllables not words. Both are mono-harmonic due to the rhythmic essence and harmonic limitation of the tabla, the percussion instrument which dominates the settings. Sadiq used a microphone for these and summoned up, from somewhere in her slender frame, a chest voice which she used with pungent abandon. The tabla was virtuosically handled by Mativetsky. The result was compelling entertainment of limited musical but strong rhythmical appeal. It brought the house down.