reviews

"The pieces presented were all brand new to me, save for Ravel's Chansons madécasses, and as per usual at a Talisker show, my eyes were opened.

"[Ilana] Zarankin's agile and colourful soprano was on full display. [Laura] McAlpine also did her fair share of shining. Her Ravel was gorgeous and her rendition of John Beckwith's Tanu was stunning. …

"All in all, it was a great way to warm up on a stormy night. … Do yourself a favour and keep them on your radar. Talisker Players are an important piece of the Toronto music scene."

Schmopera, March 3, 2016



"In Renovated Rhymes, … Talisker Players maintained a precarious balance between meaning and absurdity with the deftness of elite gymnasts. Grounded by the confident and robust instrumental support the Talisker ensemble always provides, two high-flying vocalists, tenor James McLennan and baritone Doug MacNaughton, soared from one insouciant perch to another. …

"Between musical sections, the wry and cynical perspective of James Thurber was wonderfully conveyed by actor/reader Ross Manson taking on the voices and regional accents of crows, orioles, worms, lemmings and other creatures grappling with the betrayed love, misplaced trust, thwarted ambitions and other challenges they share with humans. …

"The Talisker Players can be relied on to present the finest expressions of timeless themes through words and music, performed with high artistry. This light-hearted fare allowed us to see a measure of joy that they bring to their performances. At the same time, there remained a clear sense of ensemble-wide reflectiveness about the material that has been so thoughtfully selected."

Musical Toronto, October 27, 2015



"The Talisker Players' latest show, Heroes, Gods & Mortals, is typical of what they do best: partner with some excellent singers and an actor to create an interesting programme of words and music on a given theme. Last night, as the title suggests, the theme was classical mythology; a rich enough seam for almost anything!

"… So, an interesting and varied programme, beautifully performed. The texts too, ranging from Hesiod through Keats and Cavafy to Carson, Durrell and Macaulay, were very well chosen and beautifully read by Ross Manson."

Operaramblings, May 13, 2015



"The core quartet of the Toronto-based Talisker Players … were superb. It was wonderful to hear their subtle collaboration with the two soloists."

The Barrie Examiner, November 27, 2014



"I am grateful that Talisker keeps programming music and text in such a way as to provoke my thoughts and feelings.  I look forward to seeing where they take us next year."

Barczablog, May 28, 2014



"There's something to be said for listening to one's inner voice. When the opportunity to review this show came up out of the blue mine said "Do it!". I was glad I did because an evening with the Talisker Players is a singular experience. …

"The program was comprised of music ranging from the sixteenth century to the present day. It was balanced beautifully to create the canvas for the event. The simplicity with which it was managed was brilliant, with scene changes executed under subdued lighting during the readings. … The readings, done warmly this time by author John Fraser, laid out the narrative thread, while the musicians came and went. Everything happened in plain view but the effect had a surreal quality that invited the viewer to fill in the spaces with their singular interpretation. It worked beautifully.

"When Vicki St. Pierre was singing the mix of Viennese songs it was easy to imagine a joyous woman bringing wine to patrons of a street cafe and flirting a little while doing it. Erin Bardua and Joel Allison left no doubt she was trying to pick him up during their hilarious cab driver sequence in Leonard Bernstein's 'On the Town'. The madrigal, 'Les cris de Paris', that opened the second half, evoked images of the activity within a medieval city. Andrew Ager's 'Ellis Portal' brought us back home to Toronto. Each segment created its own canvas ready for grand swashes or minute touches applied by the imagination of the individual viewer.

"It was a wonderful evening that invited the viewer to bring their imagination, and richly rewarded the investment."

No Rules No Lights, by Brian Hay, October 30, 2013

"With Time and Tide, the Talisker Players offer an investigation into the meaning of life – a series of reflections on the passing of seasons & persons – and prove that there are many pathways to the interior. …

"We began with a crystalline reading of Solveig's Song by soprano Carla Huhtanen, in a minimalist arrangement for string quartet by Laura Jones that filled the intimate space of Trinity St Paul's Centre the way a diamond snugly fits against its velvet case. … That sense of contrasts and clarity was a wonderful omen for the evening.

"Baritone Peter McGillivray sang two very different sets of songs. The first, Ernst Toch's Poems to Martha, presents a fascinating mix of melody and dense harmonies. The quartet created a stunning and vibrant sound. McGillivray showed flashes of brass, but was mostly a gently honeyed baritone, dripping with legato.  This was a thoughtful reading, nicely contextualized by Talisker's inward-looking framework for the concert.

"His second set of songs was a set which I am delighted to have discovered, Finzi's setting of Thomas Hardy poems Footpath and Stile.  McGillivray's masterful reading easily blended with the transparent play of the Talisker Quartet. While Hardy sometimes points to darkness, Finzi's folk-inspired idiom is never so dark that we can't see the British landscape underneath. …

"Canadian Canadian Walter Buczynski's [Three Songs, sung by Huhtanen] was a revelation. … So many times in the songs, [Buczynski] pushes us to listen ever closer, sometimes with a kind of back and forth between soprano and quartet where Huhtanen's soft, clear delivery hung gloriously in the church space, like silver droplets between the chords from the quartet.

"While it may be true that Time and Tide wait for no man, the program – Time & Tide – will be presented again Wednesday night at Trinity St Paul's Centre.  You should come hear it if at all possible."

Barczablog, March 5, 2013



"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 Müller and performed by nine strings and French horn player Ronald George on Tuesday night, the 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 reviewcreditd 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.

". . . 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.

"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.

" . . . . 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



"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. . . .

"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



"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

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