The third Canadian Art Song Project annual concert was given yesterday lunchtime in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. We were given four works; all by Canadian composers, and in a sufficient variety of musical idiom to make for a most interesting concert. Soprano Monica Whicher and pianist Kathryn Tremills gave us Dissidence (trois poèmes de Gabriel Charpentier) by Pierre Mercure. This 1955 work sounds rather like Ravel or perhaps early Poulenc with its symbolist poetry and rather literal musical setting. It sits very nicely for Monica’s voice though and she sang very beautifully. It seems not all modern composers hate sopranos.
Next up was Colin Ainsworth, again with Kathryn, who sang four songs from Derek Holman’s 2012 work, A Play of Passion. This piece is much more overtly modernist and is less rooted in the sort of English pastoralism that seems to inspire much of Hol;man’s output. It’s one of those works where voice and piano seem almost to be in opposition and much of it is quite loud and fierce. It also goes cruelly high and taxed Ainsworth’s upper register. He managed the excursions into the stratosphere rather well in the context of a rather loud and fierce performance.
Monica was back for Three Songs by 23 year old Matthew Emery. These were lusly romantic settings of very sentimental texts. I had no idea anybody wrote music like this anymore and I would fear for this young man’s safety if he were to stray anywhere near Darmstadt. Still it’s an individual voice and the music is certainly enjoyable and was, for many people I think, the highlight of the concert. This unreformed creature of the 20th century prefers a less comfortable idiom. The pieces were very ably performed by Monica and Kathryn with just a hint of strain in some of the very high passages (a soprano hating concession to modernism?).
The final piece, and main event, was this year’s CASP commission; Moths by James Rolfe to texts by André Alexis. We got an interesting introduction by the composer who explained the piece as a dream journey permeated by the ideas of light and dark, the soul and an extended metaphor of cloth and moths. The close collaboration between librettist and composer was very apparent with a very tight integration of text and music. I loved the texts, which are slightly surreal and very vivid.
Stitch up this longing,embroidered
with cities and rooms
trees and oceans
talking heads on countertops
horses falling from the sky
and minarets on tundra
I could have picked many such extracts. Here too, the piano seemed to be in a genuine conversation with the singer, as in all the best art songs. The performance by Brett Polegato (who I haven’t heard in far too long) and CASP co-founder Steven Philcox was very fine and did full justice to this excellent new work.
So CASP, the inspired brainchild of Steven Philcox and Lawrence Williford, continues to prosper and long may it do so.prosper