Vancouver International Song Institute

Song Evening Concert

Susan Platts, mezzo soprano, and Rena Sharon, piano

Dates and Venue 14 June 2008 @ 8pm | Recital Hall at the UBC School of Music

Mezzo-soprano Susan Platts Pianist Rena Sharon

Reviewer J H Stape

Intended for the advanced performer and the music student, the Vancouver International Song Institute, founded by Rena Sharon and now in its second year, opens up to the general public for noon-hour concerts and four evening concerts featuring its internationally renowned faculty.

Originally to have included acclaimed American baritone Sanford Sylvan (who had to cancel because of ill-health), this concert was a case of the show-must-go-on. The programme change allowed full focus on mezzo soprano Susan Platts, a fine artist whose art has continued to evolve over the past few years.

A thrilling performance with the VSO in the Mahler 3rd Symphony in 2004 announced her the heiress of the distinguished mantel of Maureen Forrester, and she has now fully come into her own after further vocal studies with Jessye Norman.

This concert, dedicated to German Lieder and the contemporary art song, was bookended with Clara Schumann, three of whose delicate songs about love opened the evening, while the touching "Liebst du um Schönheit" was a graciously offered and gracefully rendered encore.

The main offering in the first part was the nine songs of Robert Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben. The cycle was given a finely shaded, idiomatic performance, and overcame the slight breathiness evident in the first three songs as Ms Platts warmed up and took full control of her instrument and material. The final song about the death of the beloved was movingly sung, its drama nicely balanced, the pain more palpable in understatement than in gaudy show.

Having shown her mastery of the classic German song, Ms Platts went on to arguably even more genial material in settings of English writers Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's letters, Tennyson's "Now sleeps the crimson petal," and Shelley's "Love's Philosophy," and with a love poem by herself, "A Window's Light," set to music by her husband Douglas Perry.

Her diction here was impeccable, and her vocal and dramatic production compelling, as she vividly conjured Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's personality in the genial song cycle Casa Guidi by American composer Dominick Argento. Her stage presence was winning, as she whisked herself fully into character: the English poetess in love, abroad, tangled up in daily life, involved with children and servants.

Roger Quilter's settings of Tennyson and Shelley were uplifting and upbeat, the music fitting the poetry like a glove, as it should be in the art song, and the performances committed and thoughtful while remaining light and floating. These songs by the late British composer were a revelation and surely among the evening's highlights.

Rena Sharon offered consistently subtle and balanced support from the piano, her deep study and admiration of the art of the song glowing throughout this extraordinarily genial evening dedicated to a refined art. Her contribution in an evening of music about love was, indeed, truly devoted, her formidable technical skills pared down to just the right proportions, and the readings detailed and delicate.

© 2008 J H Stape