Ema Nikolovska and Steven Philcox

Yesterday was the one vocal element in this year’s virtual Toronto Summer Music; a recital streamed from the Burlington Arts Centre by mezzo Ema Nikolovska and pianist Steven Philcox.  I think this was quite the best on-line event I have seen/heard since this schmozzle started.  It started off with a master class in German Lieder singing.  There were three Beethoven and three Schubert songs and they were just lovely.  Ema’s voice is a lovely rich mezzo and she showed great expression and attention to the text backed up by perfect diction.  Steven, as ever, was an exemplary accompanist.


There were two of the Brahms’ songs for alto, viola and piano where Barry Shiffman added his excellent viola playing.  The first of two songs by Ana Sokolović; Ma mère, came next providing Ema with an opportunity to display an exquisite control of dynamics.  There was some obvious fun being had with three Obradores songs and some lovely Ravel and Poulenc too.

Ned Rorem’s What Sparks and Wiry Cries gave an opportunity for some fiercely incisive and expressive singing and pianism.  And also asked the question why do we hear Rorem’s songs so rarely (and usually sung by Canadians when we do!)?  This was the start of the most intriguing set of the afternoon which also included John Musto’s desperately sad Litany and two very spare settings of James Joyce by Samuel Barber.

The second Sokolović song was her unaccompanied setting of Mistress Mine.  It was a really interesting piece, a million miles from the usual rather jolly approaches to setting this text and once again very well done.  And to close in a perfectly elegiac fashion we got a simply sung and heartfelt rendition of Healy Willan’s arrangement of Ae Fond Kiss.

Technical production was by Riddle Films and they did a quite brilliant job.  Audio and video quality were really good.  All in all, a very well constructed and beautifully sung and played programme regrettable only for reminding us of what we are missing.  Hopefully TSM will rebroadcast this at some point as it really needs to be seen by the largest possible audience.