Susan Graham Makes Canadian Debut

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Susan Graham Makes Canadian Debut
by Joseph So / April 4, 2000
Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
Malcolm Martineau, piano
Roy Thomson Hall
Sunday, April 2nd, 2000
One of the hot young mezzos gracing the opera and recital stages of the world, Susan Graham made her Canadian recital debut at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto on Sunday. Eschewing the more popular repertoire, she has assembled a challenging program of songs by French and American composers.
The first half is made up of Trois melodies (Debussy), Melodies passageres (Barber) and six songs by Renaldo Hahn. These French art songs require exquisite taste and a delicate touch from both the soloist and the pianist, to be sung in a suitably intimate setting. Well, two out of three ain’t bad! Graham has a gorgeous lyric mezzo that is smooth and evenly produced, without the dreaded register break that afflicts so many in her voice category. She sings these songs in a sustained lyrical outpouring, with some of the loveliest piano singing in recent memory, as in Tombeau dans un parc and Le clocher chante. She creates the proper mood through sheer beauty of tone rather than textual nuance, but when one has as beautiful a voice as Graham’s, it is understandable! Hahn’s Fumee was capped by a stunning, long-held pianissimo ending that takes one’s breath away. Unfortunately this program was wasted in the cold and cavernous Roy Thomson Hall – the absolute opposite of a French salon. It was not helped by her medium sized voice and generally restrained stage manner, which did not have the desired impact it would have in a smaller hall.
The second half was made up of songs by contemporary American composers. Curiously, Graham sings with greater intensity here and her diction is very clear, as in the Musto group. She surprised the audience by using the score for Dove Sta Amore. Perhaps it was a miscalculation to program four of the most inaccessible and introverted songs by Bernstein and Liebermann in a row. Stark and austere, these songs accentuates the overall gloom of the program, and the audience reacted to the low voltage with uncharacteristically sparse applause. The final group of eight by Ned Rorem was the centerpiece of the recital – Graham has just released an album of Rorem songs on Erato she is promoting on her current recital tour. Again, one misses a certain variety in the program, and as if to underscore the point, Graham’s last song was the very slow That shadow, my likeness, from Whitman Cantata (1982), and extraordinary way to end the formal program. She sang two encores – Rorem of course – the melodically inspired Early in the Morning, and Serpent, during which Graham surprisingly made a mistake and had to stop.
The accompaniment by Malcolm Martineau is absolutely first rate, with radiant tone and a delicacy of touch that is riveting. Let’s hope Susan Graham will be back, and brings with her a program that shows off the other, more

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About Author

Joseph K. So is Professor Emeritus at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, but his first love is music, which he studied as an undergraduate student at the State University of New York. Since seeing his first live opera – La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi at the Met in 1967, the singing voice became his lifelong favourite instrument. In addition to his longtime contributions to La Scena Musicale and The Music Scene, he is Associate Editor of Opera Canada and a frequent contributor to Musical Toronto.

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