Canadian Art Song Project has just issued its second CD; Cloud Light. It’s a collection of four contrasting works by Polish-Canadian composer Norbert Palej. The first, Three Norwegian Songs (2011) was composed for baritone Peter McGillivray, who sings them here. The settings are of English translations of Norwegian texts. Maybe it’s because the texts are translations or maybe because this seems the most American/Broadway inflected piece on the disk I found it the least effective but, as we shall see, it has serious competition. In any event Peter sings it very well even when it goes cruelly high.
Four Lyrical Moments (2013) was a commission by mezzo Michèle Bogdanowicz for her father. It sets rather melancholy Polish texts by Halina Poświatowska. Here the sound world is that of the central European forest; dark and lyrical with a certain menace reinforced by the brooding piano accompaniment. It suits the colours of Michèle’s voice really well. Steven Philcox at the piano captures the spirit of the piece really well too.
The most substantial piece is the one that gives the CD its title; Cloud Light: Fourteen Small Songs (2013). This is a very impressive piece with a wealth of melodic and rhythmic invention and much more “modern” sounding, though there’s nothing here to scare a tonalist! Originally written for piano and tenor the songs here are split between Lawrence Wiliford and soprano Jacquie Woodley, who gets some fiendishly high stuff. Very accomplished performances here from both singers and Dr. Philcox.
I think the final piece on the disk is my favourite. The Demise of Argus Panoptes (2015) sets a Latin text from Book 1 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses concerning the rather brutal slaughter of the hundred-eyed Argos by Mercury. It’s composed as a kind of cantata for SATB and piano. It’s really dark and brooding and requires quite an array of extended vocal techniques such as pitch bending and Sprechstimme but there’s also a lot of four voice harmony that gives the work a weird liturgical quality. It’s quite disturbing and worth more than one listen.
The recording, made in the Glenn Gould Studio, is crystal clear and nicely balanced between voice(s) and piano. Full texts are included as well as essays by Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox and the composer.
I don’t often play review CDs twice straight through but I did with this one and it was well worth it. It’s definitely going to get a fair bit more air time! All up, this is an excellent record with four contrasting works by an important contemporary Canadian composer. It’s also a pretty good advert for the vibrancy of the contemporary art song scene in Canada. Cloud Light can be purchased on CD from amazon.ca or The Canadian Music Centre or as a download on iTunes.