The Canadian Art Song project is an initiative of Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox to encourage the composition, performance and recording of Canadian Art Song (surprise!). Part of the program is an annual commission for a Canadian composer and poet for such a work. This year’s commission formed part of today’s recital in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.
The recital consisted of three works. First up was Two Landscapes by Srul Irving Glick to texts by Kenneth Pratchett. The work dates from the 1970s and was originally composed for Jon Vickers. Musically, it could have been composed any time in the last hundred years. It’s basically tonal and fairly uncomplicated. There are two parts. The first is high (sometimes very high), slow and fairly meditative. The second has more dynamic range and needs a fair amount of heft from the singer. It’s much easier to imagine Vickers singing the second part than the first. Lawrence Wiliford on the other hand seemed more comfortable with the high meditative passages and less comfortable when it came to pushing out a big sound. Terrific accompaniment from Christopher Mokrzewski who, as always, was as much fun to watch as to listen to (either being much preferable to spelling his name).
The second piece was a setting of seven of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady sonnets by David Passmore. This was much more modern in idiom with a sinewy, spare piano part and a demanding vocal line. In places both the spikiness and the allusions to the Blues reminded me of Sir Michael Tippett. It was quite an inventive piece and not oblivious to Shakespeare’s wry humour. It got a fine, sympathetic performance from mezzo Krisztina Szabó, once again ably accompanied by Mokrzewski.
Finally we had the world premiere piece; Sewing the Earthworm. The text (see below) is by David Brock and the music by Brian Harman. It’s a piece about physical decay and the mental anguish that goes along with it. The music is uncompromisingly modern requiring a range of vocal and piano technique. Much of the piano part lies either very high on the keyboard or is played inside the piano. The vocal part combines tricky intervals with sprechstimme, humming and a bunch of other stuff. It’s probably a work one needs to listen to more than once to really grasp. No complaints about the performances though. Soprano, Carla Huhtanen was riveting and she was very well backed up by Steven Philcox at the piano.
Sometimes I go to concerts of contemporary music and come away desperate to find more by the same composer. Golijov, Weir and Saariaho have all had that effect on me. Today’s works left me quite impressed (at least the Harman and Passmore pieces did) but not really craving more. Still, I think this is a great initiative and, who knows, one of these years a real killer winner will appear. Also, full marks to singers and pianists who certainly did the works good service. It was also good to see such a strong turn out for a concert of essentially unknown repertoire.
Texts for Sewing the Earthworm under the fold