Songs of Travel

acrTalisker Players’ first concert of the season was an interesting mix of material around the general theme of travel; the music neing intersperse with related texts read most pleasingly by Derek Boyes.  First up was soprano Virginia Hatfield with a French baroque rarity; Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s Le Sommeil d’Ulisse.  This piece is scored for flute, violin and harpsichord continuo and the violin part in particular, very well played here, takes an important role.  The piece, which is largely recitative, was sung stylishly, beautifully and, as always, extremely accurately by Ms. Hatfield.  One quibble though.  If one is expecting the audience to use the provided translation of the text it might be advisable to leave the lights up enough to allow them to be read!

Geoffrey Sirett’s first contribution was Vally Weigl’s Songs of Love and Leaving to texts by Carl Sandburg, scored for viola and piano.  To be honest, I didn’t warm much to either texts or music here though Mr. Sirett sang strongly in his usually rather muscular way.

The first half closed out with arrangements, by Laura Jones, of popular songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Ian Tyson.  All three were rather lovely but it was the haunting, very Canadian, melancholy of Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds that really caught my attention.  Does any other culture have a place that signifies what Alberta does in the Canadian (or at least the Maritime/Central Canadian) imagination?  A sort of Hell that you go to to make a living when there’s nothing else left?  There are English traditional songs from the Industrial revolution that convey a similar despair ; “From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me.”, but somehow even Hull won’t really stand in for Fort McMurray!  Anyway, an unusual and imaginative piece of programming that I really liked.  Worth noting too that both Virginia and Geoff can sing this sort of material in a completely different way than they do with “classical” material.

After the interval we got more Canadiana in Louis Applebaum’s Algoma Central; a setting of texts taken from Algoma Central Railway timetables and brochures.  Sung by Virginia in what is likely only the second performance since Mary Morrison premiered it in the Sault nearly forty years ago.  It’s a fascinating piece; the voice supported by flute and harp and highly evocative, in a weird, crazy way, of both railways and the Ontario Northland in both text and music.  It was beautifully sung and played by Virginia with Anne Thompson on flute and Sharlene Wallace at the harp.  And, yes, I have ridden the Algoma Central Railway but that story, involving Pierre Trudeau and a wolf hunter is for another day!

Geoff closed the proceedings out with Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel (texts by Robert Louis Stevenson).  Excerpts from this cycle, usually with piano accompaniment are a bit of a recital staple so it was really refreshing to hear the full set with the extra colours of a piano quintet for accompaniment.  Executed extremely competently and with considerable feeling it made a fitting conclusion to an unusually interesting song programme.  Favourite of mine as it is though it was the Canadian content that was working my brain on the ride home.

You can catch this show again tonight at Trinity St. Paul’s at 8pm.

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