In review: The Talisker Players & Spirit Dreaming

In review: The Talisker Players & Spirit Dreaming

Greg Finney

Major snowstorms and a rough start to the day for Toronto commuters didn’t stop a dedicated crowd from showing up to Trinity-St. Paul’s on Tuesday night.

The night’s program, Spirit Dreaming, was a presentation of various creation myths from around the world. The eclectic program included readings from “Beginnings: Creation Myths of the World”, edited by Penelope Farmer, and “In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World”, compiled by Virginia Hamilton, read wonderfully by actor Andrew Moodie. These readings were interspersed with song cycles that reflected themes mentioned in the texts, and Spirit Dreaming featured soprano Ilana Zarankin and mezzo soprano Laura McAlpine alongside the Talisker Players group.

The chamber ensemble 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.

Zarankin’s agile and colourful soprano was on full display in pieces like the Finnish composition Saamelaislaulua (Sami Songs) by Jouko Linjama with poetry by Aslak Guttorm, and the Harry Somers piece Kuyás, using text from Plains Cree Narrations. But the highlight of Zarankin’s top-drawer musicality came in Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Suite for Voice and Violin (poetry by Maria de Andrade). Her interplay with the impressive violinist Elizabeth Loewen Andrews was breathtaking. Andrews’ command of her instrument was nothing short of astounding while consistently playing beautiful ensemble music.

Not to be outdone (not that it’s a competition) McAlpine also did her fair share of shining. Her Ravel was gorgeous and her rendition of John Beckwith’s Tanu (with texts from descriptions of Haida monumental art) was stunning. The composer himself seemed just as awed as the rest of the crowd by the performance of this piece. However, it was the evening’s closer, String Quartet #13: Island Dreaming by Peter Sculthorpe (texts from chants and poetry of the people of the Torres Strait) that had me most captivated. McAlpine showed off an impressive lower register as well as some great mixed-voice singing.

All in all, it was a great way to warm up on a stormy night. I do think the program could have benefitted a little from some more variations in sorority and, more importantly, variations in tempi. However, the pieces were all performed the best they possibly could have been (in my humble opinion), and with players of Talisker’s calibre, I’m surprised that the house wasn’t oversold.

Do yourself a favour and keep them on your radar. Talisker Players are an important piece of the Toronto music scene as a whole and truly deserve as much support as we can muster for them.

Also, a shout-out to Anne Thompson on flute/piccolo. That was some of the best flauting I’ve heard in a while.

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