Whispers of Heavenly Death is a new CD of song settings by Scott Perkins. It’s a generously filled disk with nine works amounting to some 33 tracks. First up are five Walt Whitman poems from the eponymous collection. The settings are sparse but quite varied with legato vocal lines handled nicely by the dark toned mezzo Julia Mintzner. Accompaniment, as on the rest of the disk, is by Eric Trudel.
Six settings from the Holy Sonnets of John Donne follow sung by soprano Jamie Jordan. The music here is spikier and set much higher. It suits Jordan’s light, bright soprano. My favourite tracks are next; four settings of riddles from the Exeter codex sung by baritone Dashon Burton. They are very varied. Ic eom ƿunderlicu ƿiht is jerky and set very high for baritone with arpeggio accompaniment. Moððe ƿord fræt is very rhythmic while Ic ᵹefræᵹn for hæleþum is in a very beautiful, liturgical, vein sounding more medieval than the rest. Ƿrætlic honᵹað gets perhaps the only blues setting an Old English text has ever got! The very short Ƿundor ƿearð on ƿeᵹe is just plain weird. Plenty here for any Old English geek.
I was fortunate, back in November 2016, to be at the Aga Khan Museum when Miriam Khalil gave an extraordinary performance of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ayre. Good news! It was recorded and is now available as the inaugural release on the new Against the Grain label. It loses little in its translation to disk. I think the power, beyond the work itself, comes from Miriam’s intensity and grasp of the various idioms involved. As the man himself says “No one owns this piece in the way that Miriam Khalil does. It is as if she was born to sing it”. Certainly it sounds quite different from the original recording with Dawn Upshaw. The recording itself is clean and clear and does the performance justice. Osvaldo’s introductory speech is included as a bonus.
Ayre is available digitally on iTunes (C$9.99) and Google Play, and physical CDs will be sold in retail shops in Toronto, online via the AtG website, and at all upcoming 18/19 season performances by Against the Grain Theatre.
There is also a digital booklet (including texts and translations and useful historical/background material) available on the AtG website.
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. Continue reading
That headline is taken from the eighth movement of Jonathan Dove’s 2016 work for orchestra and children’s chorus; A Brief History of Creation, which takes us in thirteen movements from the stars to man via, inter alia, rain, sharks, whales and monkeys. The text, by Alasdair Middleton, is clever, engaging and singable. The music is eclectic. There are elements of atonality but also intense lyricism. It’s by turns shimmery, frantic, doom laden and meditative. It engages beautifully with the text and Dove has a very sure sense of what is and is not reasonable to ask of a children’s choir. Some short text sections are left as spoken (with a very authentic Mancunian accent). All in all, it’s a witty and enjoyable piece that doesn’t outstay it’s 45 minutes or so.
I’m not sure how I’ve not come across the music of Howard Skempton before but it took a flyer for a disk with a setting of The Ancient Mariner to get my attention. I’m fascinated by what contemporary composers do with the broadly defined field of art song and Skempton’s piece is really interesting. He sets a mildly abridged version of the Coleridge but there’s enough to last past the half hour mark. The vocal writing is tonal, rhythmic and declamatory; hardly song at all in a way, but it supports the text rather well. It’s sung here by baritone Roderick Williams, for whom the piece was written. He has a clear, bright voice and the setting tends towards the upper end of the baritone range. He also has superb diction in the manner of the best of the “English school”. The result is complete comprehensibility for the text and full value for every word.
I’d hesitate to call Eliza Carthy a “folk musician”. Like the rest of the Waterson/Carthy clan she’s much more than that and she’s always had the capacity to surprise; moving from a member of her mum and dad’s band to the principal behind albums like Red and Rice. Her latest effort; Rivers and Railways is something else again. At 17’33” I hesitate to call it an “album” but it’s released in digital and physical formats on the NMC label (another outfit which is a bit hard to pigeonhole). It’s a collaboration with the equally uncharacterizable Moulettes and the Freedom Choir and it’s, implausible as that may seem, about Hull (as in “From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver us”.)
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
This recording contains the solo works from Sances’ fourth book of songs plus the slightly better known chaconne Accenti queruli. They are all sung by tenor Bud Roach accompanying himself on a replica baroque guitar. The songs are strophic settings of love poetry of unknown origin, perhaps the composer himself. They range quite widely in mood from the rather doleful O perduti dilettithrough the very colourful Che pietà sperar si puòto the ironic Dove n’andrò. The poetry is less directly bawdy than some contemporary English material but the sexual allusions come thick and fast in a piece such as Rapitemi, feritemi. These songs may lie in that ambiguous area between art song and popular song but there’s no lack of musical interest here.