I haven’t heard a lot of music by Andrew Staniland but what I’ve heard I’ve liked so I was pleased to get my paws on a recent recording of songs by him; Go by Contraries. There are three pieces on the disk. The first, and longest piece; Earthquakes and Islands, is a setting of eight poems by Toronto poet Robin Richardson. It’s the work that reminds me most of Dark Star Requiem. Words and music are both quite quirky. My Voice, In My Mouth, for example. is a meditation in an oncologist’s waiting room about the consequences of getting close to a lion. The music is full of variation; tonally, rhythmically, harmonically and dynamically. It’s quite surprising the range of sounds Staniland can conjure up from a piano and two singers. It always appears to be rooted in the text though and even long voiceless passages come back logically to words.
Peter Quince at the Clavier is a four part meditation to a text by Wallace Stevens about Susanna and the Elders. It occasionally comes out of its meditative state but never with the exuberance of the first piece. The disk finishes with Execution Songs; a setting of fragments of text from Child 52, known as The Gallows Tree and many other names. It’s a slightly weird song to listen to for anyone familiar with the original (and any of the tunes it’s customarily sung to) because there’s nothing musically akin in the Staniland music which is as disjointed and fragmentary as th chosen bits of txt. Fascinating.
The performances are by baritone Tyler Duncan, soprano Martha Guth and pianist Erika Switzer; a Canadian trio probably better known in the US and Europe! I think they find the idiom well and do the works justice. The recording, made at Cook Hall in St. John’s in 2017, is clear and detailed with excellent dynamic range. The documentation includes bios and full texts. A disk worth a listen!