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Mezzo-soprano Caroline Portelance. Photo: Ben Welland.

Concert Review: Lieder Reise offers a sampling of Romantic song cycles at MacKay United Church Concert Series

By Alex Binkley on January 30, 2020

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While Pauline Van der Roest and Caroline Portelance are both billed as mezzo-sopranos, their separate performances during the MacKay United Church Concert Series’ January 26 performance sounded quite distinct. Very enjoyable but different in a way that’s hard to capture in words.

The program was entitled Lieder Reise and featured song cycle compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Richard Wagner, and Gustav Mahler. In those songs, the singers were almost like the actors in a short one-act play. The action is mostly conveyed by their voices.

The MacKay chamber music concerts are usually all instrumental, so singing was quite the change in tempo, especially coming from such moving voices.

Their singing, accompanied by the skillful piano playing of Frederic Lacroix, was thoroughly enjoyed by the nearly 200 people who braved the soggy streets of New Edinburgh for the event.

The MacKay chamber music concerts are usually all instrumental, so singing was quite the change in tempo, especially coming from such moving voices.

Portelance led off with Beethoven’s “An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved),” which the program notes described as a piece “considered to be the very first song cycle in what became a long tradition of setting romantic poetry to music.”

Then Roest performed Schubert’s “An den Mond” which describes the feelings of passionate love. The program notes point out that Schubert is “in a class by himself—his 600 songs always have beautiful poetic depth embodied in the music.”

After the intermission, Portelance sang Wagner’s “Wesendonck Lieder.” The notes said this cycle “has always moved Carole with the beauty and depth of emotion in these songs.” She certainly conveyed it to the audience.

Wagner used the melodies of two of the songs in this cycle in his opera Tristan und Isolde.

Roest concluded the concert with Mahler’s “Ruckert Lieder,” a series of songs based on poems written by Friedrich Ruckert, which the notes describe as full of “the deep inspiration, lush beauty and haunting emotion we associate with Mahler.” This is a cycle that Roest has long wished to perform and she certainly didn’t waste the opportunity.

Portelance has performed in many local operas, recitals, and concerts, often with the South Ottawa Performing Arts Collaboration (SOPAC).

Roest studied music in New York City and Ottawa and has performed as a chorister in Montreal’s Notre Dame Cathedral and Carnegie Hall. In September she was the invited guest soloist at the 75th anniversary liberation concert in her hometown in the south of the Netherlands.

Pianist Lacroix teaches at the University of Ottawa and performs on the piano at the National Arts Centre as well as across Canada and internationally.

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