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Donna Brown - Catherine Robbin Duo Recital a Song-Lovers' Delight

By Joseph So / October 29, 2001

Donna Brown, soprano
Catherine Robbin, mezzo-soprano
Bruce Ubukata, piano
Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto
Friday, October 19, 2001

Mendelssohn Four duets from Op. 63

Robert Schumann Gedichte der Konigin Maria Stuart, Op. 135
Der Nussbaum (Mosen), Op. 25/3
Roselein, Roselein (von der Neun), Op. 89/6
Die Lotosblume (Heine), Op. 25/7

Clara Schumann Liebst du um Schonheit (Ruckert), Op. 12/4
Warum willst du and're fragen, Op. 12/11
Das ist ein Tag, der klingen mag, Op. 23/5

Robert Schumann Four duets
Erste Begegnung, Op. 74/1
Wenn ich ein Voglein war, Op. 43/1
Herbstlied, Op. 43/2
Mailied, Op. 103/1

Hector Berlioz Two duets
Le trebuchet, Op. 13/3
La mort d'Ophelie, Op. 18/2

Claude Debussy Four songs from Ariettes Oubliees
C'est l'extase
Il pleure dans mon Coeur
L'ombre des arbres

Francis Poulenc Banalites
Chanson d'Orkenise
Fagnes de Wallonie
Voyage a Paris

Faure Puisqu'ici-bas tout ame, Op. 10

Saint-Saens El desdichado

What happens when you pair two consummate recitalists with a sensitive pianist, in an acoustically friendly hall, on a lovely autumn evening? The answer is easy – you have the ingredients for an evening of superlative music-making.

Donna Brown
The artistry of mezzo-soprano Catherine Robbin is well known, but Donna Brown must be Canada's best-kept secret. Long a respected artist with a solid reputation in Europe (particularly in France), Brown is now based in Ottawa and Canadian audiences are once again getting re-acquainted with this wonderful singer. On Friday evening, under the auspices of The Aldeburgh Connection, the two artists presented a superbly crafted program of duets and solos.

One is immediately struck by how well they looked together onstage – down to their complementary concert gowns. More importantly, the darker, fruity mezzo of Robbin and the pure, shimmering soprano of Brown achieved a well-nigh perfect blend, evidenced right away, in the four delightful Mendelssohn duets (Op. 63). The two artists sounded like they have been singing together for years. The Schumann duets that closed the first half further reinforced that impression, with Herbstlied (Op. 43, no. 2) an absolute gem. Berlioz' Le Trebuchet (Op. 13, no.3) was delivered with a vivid imagination and a disarming sense of humour. If one were to quibble, the tessitura for the alto in Le Mort d'Ophelie (Op. 18, no. 2) – quite a vocal tour de force, was a bit low to be comfortable for Robbin.

In addition to the twelve duets, each singer had a fair share of solos. Robbin treated the audience to a delicious rendering of Poulenc's Banalites, with Hotel given a languorous, almost 'bluesy' air, complete with hilarious mime of smoking a cigarette. For me, the highlight of the evening was the group of Debussy – four songs from Ariettes Oubliees sung by Donna Brown. Her expressive, nuanced singing, coupled with pure, gleaming tone and overall lovely stage presence made it very special. Particularly effective was the high pianissimi that concluded the final verse of L'ombre des arbres – a piece of singing that could hardly be bettered.

The soloists were fortunate to have the services of Bruce Ubukata as the ever-sensitive and sympathetic pianist. The evening concluded with two delightful encores about sisterhood – Brahms' Die Schwesterin, and Sisters by, of all people, Irving Berlin! May there be many more sisterly collaboration from these artists in the future.

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