hymns of heaven and earth

hymnsofheavenandearthhymns of heaven and earth is a Centrediscs CD featuring three works by Halifax based Peter-Anthony Togni.  I have limited experience with Togni.  I thought his Responsio (reviewed for Opera Canada) was inspired but was less impressed with his Isis and Osiris – Gods of Egypt.  Perhaps unsurprisingly I found the new CD most interesting when it leaned towards Togni’s liturgical/spiritual side and less so when he seemed to be teetering on the edge of pastiche.  The title piece; a string quartet in four movements, is lyrical and rooted in the idea of “light”.  It’s essentially tonal with minimalist elements; repeated figures etc, and a distinctly liturgical feel.  I enjoyed it a lot and it gets a really good performance from Ilana Waniuk and Suhashini Arulanandam on violins, Rory McLeod on viola and Dobrochna Zubek on cello.

For Solstice Nights the strings are joined by Cary Ebil on cor anglais.  The first part Dream of the Long Night is meditative and rather beautiful with the cor anglais adding a darker, haunting quality to the music.  It also breaks away a bit from strict tonality with some slides in the strings.  Midsummer Dance, the second part, is predictably brighter and more dance like.  It’s an interesting and satisfying contrast..

The disk concludes with Three Neruda Odes, commissioned by soprano Stacie Dunlop who is supported here by the strings.  They are fascinating poems.  On the face of it they are quite whimsical; Ode to My Suit, Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market (shades of Grunthos the Flatulent there) and Ode to a Lemon.  Yet, being Neruda, they pile layer on layer of symbolism and death is never very far away.  Togni deals with this effectively, typically starting out quite brightly and then darkening the palette as the poet reveals his true meaning.  I did think though that there was a bit of a whiff of music hall Spanishness in there that wasn’t necessary or helpful.  The colours of the music are well brought out in Stacie’s singing which is also sensitive to text and captures the surprise twists and turns well.

The recording, made in the Glenn Gould Studio, is clear and detailed.  The booklet contains composer’s notes, bios and texts and translations of the Neruda poems.  All in all, quite an interesting , though hardly ground breaking disc.  It’s at the more “traditional” end of Canadian academic composing and many people will see that as a plus.

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