In review: Owen McCausland's recital stunner

In review: Owen McCausland's recital stunner

Jenna Simeonov

At yesterday’s noon-hour concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, COC Ensemble Studio member Owen McCausland had the stage (mostly) to himself. Originally, the concert was to feature Owen along with mezzo Charlotte Burrage, splitting Janáček’s cycle, Diary of One Who Disappeared. Instead, Owen sang a full recital, including 6 of the Janáček songs, plus selections from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The House of Life and Benjamin Britten’s Les illuminations.

As COC Ensemble members graduate from the young artist programme, they’re given the opportunity to sing a recital full of their own repertoire choices (a novel idea in the lives of young singers). I thought Owen’s picks were fantastic, especially considering the short-notice change in the program. The Janáček is the story of a man who falls in love with a gypsy girl; we heard the first six songs, which were full of anger and guilt over the man’s fixation with the girl. Owen’s raw, throaty sound was beautiful for these songs; there was real wanting in his tone, sometimes crying out. I don’t know this cycle well, but Owen left me eager to hear more. COC Ensemble Studio pianist Jennifer Szeto played the odd and meandering part with great purpose. I remember reading somewhere during my university years that Janáček liked to imitate speech rhythms in his instrumental music; I heard a bit of that in Szeto’s playing, and it helped make sense of the songs.

The Vaughan Williams showed Owen’s huge development as a recitalist. His singing in English seemed entirely different to me, creating sound on every letter of the convoluted texts of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. These songs lie low for a tenor at times, but I loved the slow build to the heroic lines in the last song, “Love’s Last Gift.” Owen sounded totally at home. For this set and the Britten, Liz Upchurch played; she really does have a noticeably beautiful sound, and English song repertoire is one of her specialities.

The five songs from Les illuminations were a highlight for me. These songs are incredible, and the texts are complicated. Owen had such detail in the delivery of these songs; he doesn’t have a Peter-Pears sound (who does, really?), but Owen reminded me of how different Les illuminations sounds when sung by a man. These were sexy songs, and schizophrenic; Owen took huge vocal risks, too, like in that terrifying and gorgeous line, “et je danse,” from “Phrase.”

It was so great to hear more of Owen, who has obviously stayed busy despite not being involved in the Ensemble Studio’s performance of The Barber of Seville. There was beautiful detail in his text delivery, and his singing gets more thrilling and consistent each time I hear him.

Owen earned himself an encore, for which he was joined by (almost) the entire COC Ensemble Studio, to sing Schubert’s “An die Musik” to outgoing Free Concert Series Director of Programming, Nina Draganic. They changed the words to something more likely entitled, “An die Nina,” and it was too damn cute.

Bravo, Owen! And to the rest of the COC young artists: see you in the fall!

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