This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Leslie Fagan and Lorin Shalanko’s new CD, Thread of Winter, is billed as the first CD in the Canadian Art Song Series(not, emphatically not, to be confused with the Canadian Art Song Project). The material it contains is said by the performers to have been selected for “accessibility” and as a resource for students who apparently find it hard to find recordings of Canadian repertoire.
Anyway, the 23 pieces on the disk include song settings by Gary Kulesha, Jeff Smallman, James Gordon, Imant Ramnish, Walter MacNutt, Kenneth Bray and Peter Tiefenbach. For the most part they are rather simple, straightforward tonal pieces of no great complexity. Indeed at times they seem reminiscent of a singer/songwriter semi-improvising in a bar. The most interesting are probably Peter Tiefenbach’s settings of nursery rhymes, which are witty but make no claim to be on the leading edge of composing technique. Perhaps such material is a useful source for students at an early stage of their singing careers and one or two of the pieces as part of a recital programme might be welcome but 23 back to back don’t make very interesting listening.
It’s not particularly challenging music for performer or listener and the performances are workmanlike though one might have hoped for more clarity of diction in Ms. Fagan’s higher register. The recording, made in the Maureen Forrester Recital Studio at Wilfred Laurier University is clear and accurate.
I think what I find most troubling about this disc is that it’s billed as a serious attempt to rescue Canadian art song from obscurity. To present this particular music in that light scarcely does justice to the really interesting work that is being produced in the genre by Canadian composers, often under the aegis of the Canadian Art Song Project. One also wonders whether Wilfred Laurier students and their teachers are unaware of the wealth of Canadian material being recorded and published by the CMC and Centrediscs among others.