Summer music has arrived! Westben provides the idyllic backdrop: Wallis Giunta, Alexander Dobson and Brian Finley provide the music.
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON July 7th 2018
Mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta
Baritone Alexander Dobson
The Meadow at Westben, Campbellford ON
The Barn at Westben, Campbellford ON
For any music lover wanting to escape from the heat and bustle of everyday life in the city, there are music festivals happening all over southern Ontario this summer in idyllic surroundings. The Westben Festival was the first of several that we will be visiting over the next several weeks. Located on a family farm minutes from the Trent Canal and the town of Campbellford just 30 minutes north of the 401 at Picton, it provides a pastoral setting in which to enjoy an eclectic assortment of great music.
For eighteen Years Artistic Director and Managing Director Brian Finley along with his life and musical partner, Donna Bennett who acts as Advancement and Marketing Director have been mounting annual festivals that have included solo appearances by some of Canada’s finest artists, chamber and choral groups from across the country, opera, musicals, jazz and folk music. The purpose-built barn has served as the venue. With doors open to the outdoors, the music can include the sounds of a sparrow, the rustling of the wind in the trees, or even the sounds of rain on the roof. Each add to the magic of time spent at Westben.
The first half of the concert comprised Lied Edition. Vol 5 – Frauenliebe und leben, a cycle of poems by Adelbert von Chamisso that tell the story of a woman’s love for a man from the moment she first laid eyes on him through marriage, the birth of a child and his untimely death. Giunta was a magnificent story-teller. He clear mezzo voice brought out every emotion from the delight of a frenzied teen to the despair-stricken grief of a young widow. Giunta’s theatricality combined with her magnificent vocal skills have taken her to some of the most prestigious opera stages of the world. I last witnessed her in the leading role of Kurt Wiell’s Seven Deadly Sins with the Toronto Symphony a year ago. She will be reprising that role this week in Portland, Oregon and is then off to Germany to sing Bach, a rare treat for her, accustomed as she is to major operatic roles at Opera Leipzig, her home theatre. She will next be in these parts in Opera Atelier’s production of Idomeneo in 2019.
On Friday evening, Westben played host to a magnificent performance of Schumann Lieder by mezzo-soprano Wallis Giunta and baritone Alexander Dobson along with collaborative pianist Brian Finley. An hour before the concert, the artists provided early arrivals with a chat that revealed the passion of each to bring the music of Schumann to audiences. Finley said it has been a lifelong mission to make the music accessible. He is an excellent teacher giving some background as he told the story of each of the Lieder cycles with humour and enthusiasm. Giunta talked about her theatrical approach to the songs. Dobson spoke of the importance of the subtext in the piano part. Who knew that Schumann wrote 128 songs in the year 1840?
Artistic and Managing Director Brian Finley
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The Westben Concerts at the Barn continue through to August 4. Next Friday July 13th at 7:00pm, comedians Colin Mochrie and Deb McGrath will be sure to entertain. On Saturday afternoon, July 14th at 2pm, the Vancouver Chamber Choir will perform a variety of choral repertoire. Clickhere for the complete listing of all Westben events.
Following Intermission, Alexander Dobson’s warm and powerful baritone voice filled the barn with the despair of a man who has been rejected by the one to whom he has confessed his love and longing. Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Op. 48, a cycle of sixteen songs, is the epitome of German Romanticism. No one can express despair better than Schumann and the combination of Dobson and Finley brought its every nuance to the listener. The expressions of longing in the opening song came first from the piano in an incredibly sensitive opening. The terror in the eighth song has a powerful poignancy as the poet’s heart has been torn apart. Dobson was magnificent. Dichterliebe is not at all new to Dobson. In fact he will be performing it again this week at Music Niagara along with a concert performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I last heard Dobson in a stunning performance of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in 2017 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. His Westben performance only solidified in my mind what a major talent he is.