Canadian baritone Russell Braun (above) was joined by Canadian pianist Carolyn Maule in a concert inspired by water.
Canadian baritone Russell Braun (above) was joined by Canadian pianist Carolyn Maule in a concert inspired by water.

Russell Braun’s rich baritone voice and emotional range, accompanied with sensitive empathy by Carolyn Maule on the Vancouver Academy of Music Steinway, made Music in the Morning (MITM) so sweet that the audience often held its breath.

Their programme was inspired by water. They chose aspects such as its reflective qualities both literally and metaphorically; how it sustains and nurtures, can calm or threaten; how it can save or destroy; and how it can be used to hide or to suck things so deeply into the abyss that they are irretrievable.

The duo maintained the theme from the opening, Die Lorelei by Franz Liszt with text by Heinrich Heine, to Ol’ Man River by Jerome Kern, toward the end of this outstanding tour de force. Braun used Paul Robeson’s arrangement: instead of singing, “You get a little drunk and you lands in jail …” both singers substituted,“You show a little grit …” and you land in the same place.  The substitution adds weight to the horror of slavery that the song highlights. And it reflects the humanity that shines through Braun’s and Maule’s performance. These are good people as well as superbly accomplished musicians.

Ol’ Man River was part of a collection of songs that followed an emotional roller-coaster ride of sixteen songs titled Dichterliebe, Op.48 by Robert Schumann, with the text again written by Heinrich Heine. The love songs covered the gamut of emotions that drive romantic obsession, from abandoned to unrequited and finally to relinquished, all in some way connected to water. Braun’s and Maule’s performance wrenched tears followed by ecstatic applause for both outstanding performances.

But that wasn’t the end of the programme compiled by these masters of form, with credentials earned by the decades of experience exampled by their return visit after some 25 years, by Braun’s reckoning. They offered the soothing balm that follows an impassioned crie de coeur such as Ol’ Man River. The balm in this instance was Aaron Copland’s arrangement of At the River.

Braun sang, “Yes, we’ll gather by the river, the beautiful, the beautiful river, gather with the saints by the river that flows by the throne of God,” with such gentleness and grace that even his consonants embraced the music. It was a masterpiece of technique, integrity and emotional maturity.

And then, after MITM Executive and Artistic Director, Adrian Fung, announced the extended sponsorship of the magnificent floral arrangement that enhances the Vancouver Academy of Music stage every second Wednesday and Thursday of the month, the dynamic duo returned to invite the audience to sing We’ll Gather Lilacs in the Spring Again along with them.

Other familiar songs needed no translation, although the words were thoughtfully included in the programme notes. Favourites included John Masefield’s Sea Fever put to music by John Ireland, and Deep River arranged by H.T. Burleigh.

Canada was well represented by composer and former CBC producer Srul Irving Glick who arranged Kenneth Patchen’s text The Sea is Awash with Roses from Landscape No.1. But the country could not have been better represented than by pianist Carolyn Maule and baritone Russell Braun who, in recognition of this fact, recently became an Officer of the Order of Canada.

A brief postscript: Next month’s concert featuring piano duo, Anagnoson and Kinton, will be followed by Music in the Morning’s AGM, with music by none other than June Goldsmith and Adrian Fung. Everyone is invited to attend. Paying a toonie will grant membership and voting rights. Visit musicinthemorning.org for details.