Erica Iris Huang
Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg
Winnipeg Art Gallery
November 20th 2011
Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch
The second concert of the Women’s Musical Club of Winnipeg season was a highly anticipated one, as on Sunday, Nov. 20th the Muriel Richardson Auditorium would be welcoming dramatic mezzo-soprano Erica Iris Huang – winner of the 34th annual Eckhardt-Gramatté National Competition – to its stage. Huang, and accompanist Emily Hamper, appeared before an eager audience at the
The concert began with Huang’s passionate interpretation of Schumann’s Liederkreis, op. 24. With Hamper’s expert support, Huang quickly captured the audience’s attention with a voice that was not only technically flawless but sparkled with personality.
Huang’s gift as a vivacious and charismatic storyteller fully revealed itself in Canadian composer Michael Oesterle’s 2011 work Eckhardt Songs, a series of colourful musical vignettes in which she took on a variety of characters and roles, culminating with the stunning “chi pò," much to the amusement of the delighted audience. The programme’s first half came to a close with the marvelous Cinco canziones negras (‘Four Black Songs’) by Xavier Montsalvatge, a collection of pieces infused with both feelings of dramatic desperation and a vivid, off-beat sense of humour that left patrons eager for the rest of what would undoubtedly be a truly outstanding afternoon of music.
The second half opened with Poems of Young People, a multi-movement piece originally written for legendary Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester by the late, Winnipeg-based composer Harry Freedman. Huang showed no difficulty in making its enigmatic lyrics come alive on stage, proving particularly enchanting in the piece’s final movement, “The Role of Canada in the World Today." The following, Chausson’s melancholy, heartbreaking Chanson Perpétuelle, op. 37, showcased both Huang and Hamper’s exceptional sensitivity for classical repertoire.
Nova Scotia-born composer Emily Doolittle’s Airs of Men Long Dead was selected by Huang for its roots in Norse mythology and its innovative utilization of voice and piano. The work cast a hush over the auditorium the moment Hamper began lightly, yet ominously, tapping on the front of her piano, as if knocking on a door. Huang joined in with a voice both rich and evocative; as she filled the listener’s mind with images of dimly-lit cabins and moonlit winter skies, one could only observe in awe as the duo transported an entire audience deep into the past.
It seemed almost a shame to break the spell, but each work that followed was more impressive than the last. “Banquo’s Buried," adapted by Alison Bauld from the famous sleepwalking scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, was just as mesmerizing, with Huang inhabiting the character of Lady Macbeth as if it were a second skin, both her talent for portraying complex characters and her richly-hued, expressive voice at full force. The concert proper ended with William Bolcom’s joyous “Amor," which proved a vibrant contrast to Bauld’s chilling dramatics, allowing Huang to give the more sensual facets of her dramatic range much-welcomed exposure and bringing the audience to its feet. With many patrons rapturously calling out for encores, Huang responded with a radiant performance of the iconic habanera from Bizet’s Carmen.
The concert was the first of the 2011-12 WMC season to be recorded live by CBC Radio 2, with a planned airdate of Feb. 19th, 2012 on In Concert with Bill Richardson. Listen here.