Today saw the premiere of the Canadian Art Song Project’s second annual commission (My review of last year’s effort). This time it was Norbert Palej’s Small Songs; a setting of ten texts from Jan Zwicky’s Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. It’s an ambitious piece drawing on a wide range of vocal and piano colours and occasionally on non-standard technique. That said, although sounding like a work from the 21st century it’s really quite accessible to anyone with any familiarity at all with modern art song. Some passages were really lovely. I especially like the haunting and clever setting of Small song on being lost which evokes the loneliness of the sea and the self. The piece that followed; Small song for the moon in the daytime was also rather special ending movingly on “the wind is nowhere to be found”. All in all, great integration of text and music as art song should be. The composer “warned” us up front that the music was extremely difficult to perform because he was writing it for two very fine musicians. They didn’t disappoint. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford used all of his range; dynamically, colourwise and pitchwise to give a very text sensitive reading and he was very well accompanied by long time collaborator Steven Philcox at the piano.
The main event was preceded by a couple of sets of songs by other Canadian composers. Shannon Mercer and Liz Upchurch gave us Andrew Ager’s Italian Songs and Goethe Songs. They are well crafted works in a “could be from anytime in the last hundred years” though not without some interesting touches notably some interesting changes of pace and dynamics in the Italian Songs. I’d like to hear that piece again to be able to deconstruct what was going on in Io mi son giovinetta in particular.
Liz, again, and Peter McGilivray (sporting a very chic bow tie) performed three songs by Jean Coulthard. Unlike the other, contemporary, works these date from the 40s to the 70s. Peter performed all three songs with considerable attack making them sound more like opera arais than lieder. Whether that was the composer’s intent I don’t know but it made an interesting contrast with the other two sets.
There was a fair bit of CASP news too. Besides the annual twenty minute or so song cycle commission CASP is also commissioning shorter works to be performed as part of the Maureen Forrester Tour. This is a forty city cross-Canada recital tour by a young Canadian singer sponsored by Jeunesses Musicales Canada. The first performer will be Simone Osborne. This intrigues me because in all the many times I’ve heard Simone sing I don’t recall any contemporary rep. It’s all been solidly grounded in a Mozart-Puccini arc as best I remember so this could be quite interesting!
CASP is also trying to raise funds to record a CD of works by Derek Holman featuring Shannon Mercer, Lawrence Wiliford, Liz Upchurch and Sanya Eng. You can donate on-line at http://www.canadianartsongproject.ca