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From Salon to Cabaret: Butterfield and Grimm give Eclectic Concert to Enthusiastic Audience

By Joseph So / July 21, 2003

Benjamin Butterfield, tenor
Anne Grimm, soprano
Peter Dala, piano
St. John’s Church, Elora
July 12, 2003
Elora Festival

Butterfield and Grimm — it sounds more like a law firm than Canada’s newest singing couple. One of many outstanding Canadian voices of the current generation, Benjamin Butterfield is noted for his fine lyric tenor and his broad artistic range. His wife, Dutch soprano Anne Grimm, is new to these shores, so it was with curiosity and anticipation that I attended their joint concert at the opening weekend of the Elora Festival.

Butterfield has always had an ebullient personality that is much in evidence across the footlights, but the rather stuffy classical repertoire does not really allow him to let his hair down, figuratively of course. This concert, with a program ranging from Messaien, Poulenc, Faure, Kurt Weill, to — of all people — Randy Newman, was just the vehicle for Butterfield to put his unique personal stamp. He wrote the program notes which went a long way in explaining the rationale behind the eclectic programming — it was not so much a performance as a personal statement. His singing of the Randy Newman ballads, which Butterfield compares to art songs, was clearly from the heart. Butterfield began a bit tentatively, with some slightly self-conscious bantering with the audience. He also oversang a bit, not helped by the loud piano of Peter Dala. But both adjusted to the acoustics of the small church after a couple of numbers, settling down for a delightful hour of music-making.

Joining Butterfield was his wife, soprano Anne Grimm, who excels in baroque music in her native Holland. She has a clear, lovely lyric sound, even from top to bottom, used with taste and style. One would not think with her early music background, she would be at home in Kurt Weill. But her "Die soldaten Weib" was simply gorgeous singing, wonderfully idiomatic, perhaps only missing the ultimate in irony and world weariness. The juxtaposition of songs by Poulenc and Newman was a clever bit of programming. Their voices blended beautifully in Faure’s Pleurs d’or, and later in the encore — the love duet of Rose and Sam from Weill’s Street Scene.

The smallish audience was exceptionally vociferous in their appreciation, with sustained applause at the end. This concert marked the launching of this program which the couple hopes to repeat in the future. Given the reception, they have a hit on their hands. They will also be making music together on the operatic stage, as Tamino and Pamina for Opera Lyra Ottawa in the coming season. Stay tuned.

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