"In Muse of Fire we had the wondrous experience of sampling five different compositional flavours of Shakespeare, each sung by Norine Burgess, with a brief reading by Graham Abbey in between to act as a baguette to cleanse our palate for the next taste. ... We were taken deeply into a special discursive space - of which I believe the Bard would have approved - where we could both sample Shakespeare in several guises, and think about him, in the company of Talisker Players and Groundling Theatre Company. ...

"Burgess is a singer of many voices, who showed us different ways to sound beautiful, never singing harshly or out of tune, and always with a touching sense of ensemble with the musicians around her, never the star by an equal. ...

[It was] an exceptionally well-conceived programme. Talisker Players are to be congratulated."

Barczablog, April 19, 2012

"One piece alone is worth a ticket to the Talisker Players' latest programme at Trinity St. Paul's Centre: the alternately dark and luminous Serenade, written by English composer Benjamin Britten during World War II. As sung by tenor Rufus Muller and performed by nine strings and French horn player Ronald George on Tuesday night, the six-song cycle captured all the moods, emotions and aural colours of the dark hours - perfectly exemplifying the programme's theme, Starry Night. ...

"The combination of darkened church, meditative readings and the dusky, often diaphanous music, wove a strong spell over the course of the concert. It felt very much like having been transported to another world. Time stood still, and the hubbub of our daylight toil seemed a distant memory.

"That, too, was worth the price of admission."

Toronto Star, January 31, 2012

"The Talisker Players ended their Toronto season with an enterprising concert crowned, in a blaze of glory, by a 26-year-old Benjamin Britten’s soprano-and-string-orchestra setting of Les Illuminations, a set of verses by a similarly youthful Arthur Rimbaud, then the enfant terrible of French poetry. The soprano Tuesday in the Britten was Canadian Meredith Hall, in the full pride of her exceptional abilities.

"The Talisker Players are a flexible group of players formed to explore that intriguing but under-encountered niche of the chamber repertoire which blends their own instrumental art with the art of the singer. The title of their 2009 CD tells it nicely and names their sponsor: Where Words and Music Meet – Talisker Players at Massey College.

"Tuesday at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre they gave us four works in which they -- and we – had the pleasure of their collaboration with two of the best singers around: Hall and tenor Lawrence Wiliford. Hers was the voice in the Britten and two of Harry Freedman’s Poèmes de Jacques Prévert; his, in Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis, settings of four lyrics by the 17th-century metaphysical poet and ecstatic Thomas Traherne, and Andrew Ager’s From the Rubaiyat to poetry attributed to the Persian philosopher and astronomer Omar Khayyam. Prefacing each of the works, actor Stewart Arnott read, with simple eloquence, aptly chosen excerpts from For the Time Being by Annie Dillard, and from The Outermost Dream by William Maxwell.

Horn and bassoon performing with Talisker Players.". . . Wiliford’s singing of the Finzi cantata about the holy birth had all the articulately intuitive rapture the music longs to convey. The work itself strives humbly and with utter sincerity to inhabit the extravagant ecstasy of Traherne’s verses, and is often cited as Finzi’s masterpiece. . . . Wiliford brought his rare gifts to bear on the vocal line and the four Talisker core players could not easily have been improved upon. . . ."

". . . Britten’s Les Illuminations [is a] work of crystalline genius [which] recreates the string orchestra to encompass the astonishing poetic visions of Rimbaud, matching them with irresistible rhythms, stark, thrilling lines, fierce freshly imagined textures, amazing invention, distinctive profiles of sound, inspired alleviations of space and silence. You also never lose track of, or interest in, the revelations of the poet, the singer, the voice.

"Soprano Hall entered fully into the wonders of her delectable role, which the young Britten designed for the Swiss-born soprano Sophie Wyss. In a note to Wyss, Britten wrote “Les Illuminations, as I see it, are the visions of heaven that were allowed the poet, and I hope the composer.” I think guest conductor William Rowson, Meredith Hall, the expanded string orchestra of the Talisker Players, and the gratified, glowing audience must have felt very much the same about them in Tuesday’s performance – a signal achievement in the group’s civilized, questing endeavour."

The Globe & Mail, May 13, 2010

"The Talisker Players chamber ensemble, formed from the core of the Talisker Players Choral Music Orchestra, dedicates itself to presenting savoury programmes of rich but seldom-performed works for singer and instruments. Its vocal guest this week was the remarkable Canadian mezzo-soprano Norine Burgess. Burgess possesses a bright, steady, focused voice of pleasing timbre, and her sound and delivery were effectively varied to accommodate the three splendid but very different works we heard: R. Murray Schafer's Minnelieder (1956, for voice and woodwind quintet); Luciano Berio's Folk Songs (1964, for voice, flute, clarinet, viola, cello, harp and percussion); and a new work commissioned by the Talisker Players, Alexander Rapoport's The Song of Henry Pyne (for voice, flute, viola, bassoon and harp), having its premiere.

Talisker Players in performance."Schafer has called his Minnelieder 'the first work [of mine] that I would regard as a useful contribution to music.' . . . . In its original chamber form played on Wednesday, Burgess and the Talisker group found both clarity and many dimensions in the 13 love songs in medieval German. Intense emotions are crowded in these dense and potent vocal utterances, so fiercely contained within the spare fabric of Schafer's poignant instrumentation.

"Rapoport's suave new work came next. The composer calls it "a reworking in miniature of the legend of the 13th-century minnesinger Heinrich Tannhäuser, and a tribute to Wagner's opera on the same theme." . . . . Rapoport's music, for all his Wagner worship, is attractively his own, much more succinct than Wagner, scored with both sweetness and vigour and with some particularly memorable effects from the viola and harp. The subtle upswept portamenti on individual harp strings in Sybil's song are real ear-catchers.

"The Berio Folk Songs were the "old friend" on the program: scintillating, by no means a piece of cake to do, but endlessly resourceful and fun to hear. The opening two John Jacob Niles songs, Black Is the Colour and I Wonder as I Wander, were piquantly scored, and the ravishing two penultimate Auvergne songs topped by the rhythmically irresistible Azerbaijan Love Song won our ears and hearts effortlessly. The six others, from Armenia, France, Sicily, Italy and Sardinia, were scarcely less engaging."

The Globe and Mail, May 8, 2009

"Eight instrumentalists, two singers and actor Ross Manson used words and music last night at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre to weave an overview of contemporary art song into a colourful tapestry depicting the emotions and experiences of childhood.  The members of the Talisker Players ensemble were joined by soprano Xin Wang and tenor James McLennan in an astutely chosen program that made bedfellows of the innocence of childhood and the ironies of our times.

Piano is frequently included in Talisker Players' performances." . . . . Veteran American composer George Crumb's atonal yet powerfully expressive setting of Songs for Children by Federico Garcia Lorca gave the evening its requisite dose of gravitas, which was then playfully demolished by the bright sunshine of the first song in Palm Court Songs of the Bubble Ring, clever poems by Dennis Lee set in brilliant pastiche of Noël Coward-meets-Franz Schubert style by Canadian John Greer.

"There were several fantastic instrumental performances as well as carefully nuanced and freely expressive singing by young Torontonians Wang and McLennan, who made the often difficult music as light as a breeze."

The Toronto Star, February 11, 2009

"Last night the Talisker Players, a fluid, 12-year-old organization that presents thoughtful and often provocative programs at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, dedicated its concert to 20th-century song settings of William Blake's verse. . . . It was a stimulating night of excellent musicianship.

". . . .Toronto composer and writer Colin Eatock's Tears of Gold cycle of five songs cleverly meshed the diverse textures of harpsichord, cello and mezzo soprano. . . . But the highlight was the concert closer, “To the Evening Star”, from Malcolm Arnold’s Five William Blake Songs, in a gossamer arrangement for mezzo and string quartet. This music made for an ideal ‘sacred dew’.”

The Toronto Star, May 30, 2007

Bass clarinet in performance with Talisker Players."The programme was a rich mixture of settings of war-related texts, some very famous, such as Matthew Arnold's poem 'Dover Beach', set by Samuel Barber for voice and string quartet, Walt Whitman's 'The Wound-Dresser', set by John Adams for solo voice and chamber orchestra, and 'In Flanders Fields' set by Stephanie Moore for two voices, string trio, horn and piano.

"The texts. . . . seemed to soar with the music into a realm of radiant harmony. Following the principle that perhaps less is more when words are set to music, the most glorious piece of the evening Tenebrae, a setting for soprano, clarinet and string quartet by Osvaldo Golijov. The text is simply four separate letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Yod, Kaph, Mem, Nun‚ and the word Jerusalem‚. Teri Dunn . . . gave simply perfect voice to these mantric utterances which must have realized the composer‚s intention to write music that „would probably offer a beautiful surface, but . . . one could hear, beneath the surface, the music is full of pain.

"Talisker gathers a sterling corps of musicians, composers, and writers into an intelligent space, full of invention, and is willing to risk experimenting with their resources."

The Live Music Report, November 2005

 "Two fine young Canadian singers, soprano Jennie Such and mezzo Vicki St. Pierre, joined the group to give tender and moving voice to the various sentiments about death. . . .

"[In] Stephen Brown’s MAXWELL, Larry Douglas, [the composer’s] simple but heartfelt style, working against the conventional prose of a newspaper death notice, created a quite powerful impression, and Such sang the text with real emotion.

"Such’s colleague, St. Pierre, was if anything even more captivating in . . . Respighi’s Il Tramonto, a setting of a Shelley poem. St. Pierre has an unusual mezzo voice, clear and light, deep in its timbre. The resulting sound invitingly combines clarity of expression and beauty of tone. St. Pierre’s handling of the Respighi Shelley setting was very powerful, as she wove a vocal line around a string-quartet texture. . . .

m. mcgeer pizzicato"But the real hit of the evening was [Craig] Galbraith’s setting of old Fenian poems (with a nod to Palestrina) in The Fenian Cycle [commissioned for the concert by the Talisker Players]. Galbraith is a youngish Canadian composer with a real ear for vocal drama and the telling instrumental detail. His cycle was assured, confident, and both intellectually and musically interesting, a solid combination of all the elements that make a piece of music leap from the good to the great. The Talisker quartet of strings was beautifully joined by the mournful English horn of Victoria Ellis Hathaway, adding an immensely poignant obligato to the string texture.

"An evening devoted to the music of death might not have been exactly my idea of a perfect June musical experience, but the Talisker Players and their guests made a successful experience out of their material, proving, ironically, that even on the field of death, life – in the form of the beauty of art – can claim a victory."

The Globe and Mail, June 4, 2004

". . . . This was among the most moving performances that I have heard of the [Five] Mystical Songs [by Ralph Vaughan Williams], partly because the reduced scale of the composer’s rarely heard arrangement for baritone, string quartet and piano matched the intimacy of Herbert’s words so well, and partly because [Ian] Funk brought the poetry to the fore and made it so well understood.

"Coming at the end of the evening, Vaughan Williams’ music underlined the programme’s title "Songs of the Soul."As did the opening pieces, two songs from Gabriel Charpentier’s Poemes de Saint Jean de la Croix. Scored for soprano, violin and cello, the spare, chanting flow of these songs found perfect expression in the amber clarity of [Marion] Newman’s voice. The music rediscovered the serenity that John of the Cross found in communion with the divine.

". . . .The great revelation of the evening came with Arthur Shepherd’s Triptych setting texts by Rabindranath Tagore for soprano and string quartet. Supremely confident writing for strings allowed this music to approach the ecstasy of the words with an extroverted voice that complemented the inwardness of Charpentier’s serenity. . . . . Good for the ears and good for the soul.”

The Toronto Star, November 7, 2002

Guitar playing with Talisker Players.

"Ellis Portal [composed by Andrew Ager] was commissioned by the ever-adventurous Talisker Players as part of a double bill with the umbrella title "The City is of Night."It was a pungent word-fest celebrating the delightful minutiae of (mostly) Toronto the Not So Good, with vignettes devoted to winter, summer, a poorly named Dundas St. diner, a hooker, the Queen St. streetcar, Hogtown at 3 a.m., [the David Dunlap Observatory] and, of course, two serious musings about riding the subway.

"Mezzo Linda Maguire and baritone Gregory Dahl were in excellent fettle for these post-modern musical essays – libretto courtesy of poet-playwright Rex Deverell – as were the Talisker Players (string players Valerie Sylvester, Rona Goldensher, Mary McGeer and Mary Katherine Finch and clarinetist Peter Stoll). The music arched and dived but both singers captured the wildly cavorting ideas, adding their own dramatic emphases, colour and ironic phrasing. "The Queen Car at Night"and "3A.M."suggested the city nightscape in splendid fashion.”

The Toronto Star, February 13, 2002

"Quebec composer Rodolphe Mathieu’s Deux poemes employed tight composition that had the quartet of violinists Valerie Sylvester and Rona Goldensher, violist Mary McGeer and cellist Mary Katherine Finch aglow with atonal feeling, while tenor Geoffrey Butler warmly embraced the intoxicating text. . . .

"With the world premiere of Toronto composer Alexander Rapoport’s Northscapes, . . . the context was love of sight, sound and scenery as created by poet Barker Fairley, much influenced by Group of Seven northern imagery. Mezzo Mia Lennox brought powerfully impressive pipes to the four songs, with flashy flamboyance and beguiling tone indicating huge potential for the future."

The Toronto Star, May 23, 2001

". . . . The musical revelation was The Winter Stairs, by Andrew Ager. This is a [work commissioned by the Talisker Players] composed by the youthful Ager, currently composer-in-residence at Toronto’s Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. And what a fine piece it was – imaginative, tuneful, well-crafted, full of delightful musical touches.

"Ager breaks no musical ground with The Winter Stairs, with its insistent echoes of such composers as the Englishman John Tavener, but it was a pleasure to hear a new work capable of extablishing itself on first hearing. Soprano Barbara Hannigan gave the new piece an excellent performance, with her strong and lovely voice elucidating the various moods within the work."

The Globe and Mail, January 24, 2001