Artful art songs

The rising musical stars of Douglas shine in Arts at One

By Kealy Doyle, Contributor

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s the winter semester draws to a close, the Douglas College music department is wrapping up in grand style. This week’s Arts at One was a celebration of skill and musicianship which also acknowledged an audience challenged in recent weeks by some rather difficult music. The scholarship winners brought their ‘A’ game to pieces familiar and new and were warmly received.

It was a barnstormer of an opener. Stefani Yap put the piano through its paces with a hugely dextrous rendition of the third movement from Haydn’s “Piano sonata No. 62 in E-flat major.” The Presto is fast, strident, and proud, but always accessible. Those wonderful melodic trills were a delight. Special mention must go to Yap for her excellent attention to dynamics; she gave busy music room to breathe. It was these little touches that elevated her and many of her fellow performers from the merely ‘good’ to ‘great.’

Those sensitive dynamics were also at work in Spencer Waugh’s version of “Stella Australis,” by Argentine composer M. D. Pujol. There were some lovely arpeggios in this moody Spanish guitar piece of sunburnt landscapes and gentle Mediterranean zephyrs. It was a moment to reflect before launching into another vigorous piano session.

Amy Teo-Poh began Schubert’s gorgeous “Impromptu in G-flat Major No.” without a moment’s hesitation. Anchoring the melody with a tremendous series of oscillating triads that hardly let up throughout the five-minute piece, Teo-Poh made easy work of this romantic, deeply felt meditation. The feeling of satisfaction as the melody returned home after its anguished wanderings could hardly be expressed. It was a rewarding piece for both the performer and the audience.

Teo-Poh finished with a less familiar piece, the “Lament of Lady Zhao Jun” by Chinese composer Doming Lam. The audience was instantly transported to the Far East with the first strains of the simple but exotic pentatonic melody. It played with tempo and discordance, never quite settling into the harmonic chord. Despite some delicate work at the higher end of the keyboard, it grew into an unsettled, raging lament with only occasional glimpses of relief and harmony. To hear it played with a full orchestra would be quite something.

It was then time for a complete change of pace: enter mezzo-soprano Melissa Purnell. She began with “Le papillon et la fleur,” a lovely vocal piece by well-known Romantic composer Gabriel Fauré. These art songs are singers’ showcases, and, expertly accompanied by pianist Christian Bideau, Purnell soared. Her mature, rich voice was well-suited, her technique was excellent, and she sang with interest and emotion.

Purnell’s masterpiece and perhaps the best piece of the concert, however, was Richard Hageman’s “Do not go, my love,” a mournful early 20th century art song set to a short work by Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. It is Hageman’s best-known art song, and deservedly so. This had shades of Purcell’s haunting Dido and Aeneas and the melodic French chansons of Reynaldo Hahn. Purnell’s performance was superlative: this was not simply a piece to sing but to act, and she did so tastefully and with no trace of self-consciousness.

Purnell was joined for her final piece by soprano Leanne Gilder. Mozart’s “Sull’aria” from The Marriage of Figaro is one of the best-known female duets in classical music (the eagle-eared will remember it from The Shawshank Redemption). With charming use of props, Purnell and Gilder gave an accomplished account of this beautiful duettino. Purnell was excellent, Gilder’s voice strong, and the harmony pleasing. It left a smile on this audience member’s face.

Their accompanist Bideau took up the baton next with a revisiting of a challenging François Morel étude. It was as complex and unpredictable as in the first hearing, but left the audience in no doubt of Bideau’s prodigious skill as he mastered every tempo, dynamic, and note on the keyboard. He is an enormously accomplished performer with command of the subtle touches—a pause here, a softening there. His is a career to watch with interest.

Last but by no means least was an astonishing work by Georges Guilhaud. His “First concertino in G minor” was a brilliant setting of classical motifs to alto saxophone. Accompanied by Williams Budhiharto, Kelvin Lui sent shivers through the room with an opening arpeggio almost worthy of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The sax’s full, throaty elegance worked perfectly—in its higher register, it was positively piercing. A stunning work that was well performed.

The Arts at One series finishes for the winter semester on April 5 with student ensembles. Performances are free to attend and begin every Thursday at 1 p.m. in the Laura C. Muir Performing Arts Theatre, New Westminster campus.

The Other Press

The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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