by Paul Merkley F.R.S.C.
Toronto ON July 18th 2019
Anthony Dean Griffey; Photo credit: James Ireland
Griffey and Jones perform songs of Love, Loss, and Grief at the Toronto Summer Music
Warren Jones (piano) and Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor)
Photo credit: James Ireland
TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow augments music in Toronto in many ways; one is as Artistic Director of the valuable Toronto Summer Music. The offerings are mostly chamber music, with artists and repertoire seldom, if at all, heard at other times. Tuesday evening’s performance was a recital of songs from the twentieth century, performed by Anthony Dean Griffey (tenor) and Warren Jones (piano).
Griffey has a beautiful voice with a broad tonal palette, and he paid close attention to diction and expression. His is a large instrument; Jones played with the lid fully open (on the large stick), but he seldom overbalanced the singer.
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The evening began with Three songs for voice, viola and piano H76, written in 1907 by American composer Frank Bridge, who learned his craft in Germany. Cellist David Heiss also played for these three songs. One text was by Heine and one by Shelley, all three in a world weary, late romantic ethos, and all set musically with advanced harmonies, liberal use of dissonance, and declaimed melody, not unlike the style of late songs by Richard Strauss. It is this tonal and harmonic style that dominated the evening: richly expressive, artistically removed from the main lines of the twentieth century, those drawn by Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Bartók.
Next on the program were British composer Charles Griffes’s settings of Three Poems of Fiona MacLeod, op. 11, written in 1918. These were similar in style and sentiment to the songs by Bridge. The Rose of the Night was the darkest of op. 11, the most dissonant, and the most romantic.
Next Jones played Griffes’s Barcarolle, op. 6, no. 1, for solo piano, affectingly. The work includes elements of jazz near the end.
The first half of the concert was rounded out by Samuel Barber’s Three Songs, opus 10, using texts by James Joyce. The second of these songs, ‘Sleep now,’ the song addressed to an ‘unquiet heart’ has a haunting text, beautifully set by Barber, who is not the only composer who wrote music for it. There is a also a moving, memorable setting by my gifted composition teacher Alan Heard, one that I remember to this day.
The second half of the evening featured lighter fare: Finzi’s Shakespeare songs op. 18, Copland’s Early American Songs, two traditional songs arranged, and two pieces showing the softer side of Charles Ives: his Berceuse and the Circus Band.
This was an evening well worth attending, and, in addition, it must be remarked: what an excellent festival!