Jeunesses Musicales Canada presents

Simone Osborne: Songs of Life and Love

Canadian Opera Company: Free Concert Series November 2013


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Pictures from The Recital, 'Songs of Life and Love' — Click on Thumbnails to See the Full Shots
All Photos by Tim Flynn










Songs of Life and Love: Simone Osborne, Soprano — Anne Larlee, Piano
All the Justification the Art Song Will Ever Need

The Canadian Opera Company's Free Concert Series November 12, 2013

by Brian Hay

The depth of emotion in this recital showed the moment the notes opening Bellini's 'La Ricordanza' rolled off the piano. With apparently little effort Anne Larlee laid out a tapestry of rich tonality that offered promises of great riches to come. Soprano Simone Osborne entered moments later and the journey was underway. It was an hour of tiny jewels illuminated by caretakers honoured with the trust.

Simone Osborne steps into songs, explores them from within, and projects what she finds to her audience. Her approach is simultaneously analytical and spiritual in that she seems to search the material a bar or so ahead of what she sings and allows the emotional content to descend on her an instant before passing it to the listeners. The result is visceral and highly visual — there's a deeply rooted sense of images taking form even though they remain intangible. This approach keeps her close to the edge and sends her over it at times. Her eyes misted over more than once. This may not get official nods of approval but seeing a performer feel the music to that degree settles in very comfortably where I live.

Her partner in crime, Anne Larlee, was more than happy to tread the tightrope with her. She closed phrases reactively on shifts Simone executed and introduced the next threads in the same emotional vein but with her own variation. By doing that both performers maintained a sense of spontaneity normally expected from jazz or the best among the rock bands. Playing with the framework like that is risky because there's always the chance of one throwing the other off but the life it brings out in the music more than compensates small flaws. It also allows the performers to have some fun, which carries over to the audience as well.

The recital had an abundance of musical highlights. Their treatment of several of the songs from Schumann's 'Frauenliebe und -leben' was exquisite. Anne Larlee captured the brightness in Schumann's piano scoring especially well. The songs by Reynaldo Hahn, especially 'À Chloris' were sung ravishingly by Simone. The famous songs by Richard Strauss had their beauty illuminated in ways never evident on recordings. Their encore of 'Beautiful Dreamer' offered an additional nugget and showcased Simone's awareness of the audience. She turned slowly taking a moment to sing directly for the people furthest away. It was a nice touch and one that showed the consideration and appreciated she has for people there to share the experience.*

The pivotal moment on the programme was the Toronto premiere of the new works 'Extreme Positions' and 'Birefringence' by composer Brian Current. The songs, commissioned by the Canadian Art Song Project for the Jeunesses Musicales Canada tour, mark a new entry to the repertoire of the art song and also form the foundation for the tour this show was part of. 'Extreme Positions' was a challenge for the agility of both performers and they were up to it. As Simone mentioned when she introduced it, the song is about a ménage èt trois. Currents score captures the frantic nature of the situation and builds its tensions to what would (likely) be the abrupt close of the scene well. 'Birefringence', which is a musical depiction of light and colour, contrasted the frenetic nature of 'Extreme Positions' nicely, particularly with its lyrically calm segments. I'd like to hear both works again.

The same can be said of this program. Simone and Anne are musical explorers well versed in their material and secure enough with their abilities to present new insights on the spur of the moment. Simone, in particular instigates this but Anne responds with a flourish and hands something back just as eagerly. They project the emotional content of the songs strongly enough that the translations of the material were barely needed. I took a passing glance before each number and settled into the fit they gave to each piece. Each reads the other intuitively enough for them to pull it off the vast majority of the time. If one chokes up a little now and then it's because she's willing to feel the music strongly enough to risk being overwhelmed by it.

Performances like this provide all the justification the art song will ever need. Jeunesses Musicales Canada has created a wonderful program here and has the performers to do justice to it.

* Simone is every bit as gracious and considerate offstage. There's a wit and humour in there that shows there's a probably a lot of crack-ups interspersed with the hard work that enables them to explore the material so fully while maintaining a level of precision that would make any teacher proud.

This performance took place on Tuesday November 12, 2013 at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto Ontario. This review was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there.

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Soprano Simone Osborne and Pianist Anne Larlee
at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre in the
Four Seasons Centre November 12, 2013

Photo: Tim Flynn

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