Ayre on CD

ayrecdI 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.

He prayeth best that loveth best

ancientmarinerI’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.

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Sances – Complete Arias 1636

sancesThis 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.

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Resurrection

resurrectionThis review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.

The 1994 recording of Peter Maxwell Davies’ opera Resurrection, previously released on Collins has now been re-released on the Naxos label. It’s a hugely ambitious and somewhat confusing work; even harder to get to grips with on CD than it might be with visuals. It’s an anarchic parody of establishment figures and attitudes executed via a pastiche of multiple musical styles.

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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.

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Lady of the Lake

LOL_coverThis is an interesting CD.  It couples the rather rarely performed Schubert cycle to texts by Sir Walter Scott with a new Fiona Ryan cycle on the same theme.  The reason the Schubert is a bit of a rarity is that, besides high and low voice and piano, one number requires a female chorus and another a TTBB quartet.  In fact here those two pieces were recorded separately in different locations but I don’t think it’s apparent listening to the disc.  The Schubert also includes the well known Ave Maria, the sixth song in the cycle, given here in the German originally used by Schubert rather than the Latin version usually heard.  It’s a very decent performance.  Maureen Batt is the soprano (and the evil genius behind the whole enterprise).  Her voice is light and clear and her diction is excellent.  Even a piece like the Ave Maria sounds fresh.  Jon-Paul Décosse is the baritone.  It’s a firm, confident voice, again with every word clearly audible.  Simon Docking provides excellent accompaniment.  The Bootgesang is performed by Leander Mendoza and Justin Simard; tenors with Robert O’Quinn and James Levesque; baritones, again with Docking at the piano.  This might be the most fun piece of the cycle.  For the elegiac Coronach we get The Halifax Camerata Singers conducted by Jeff Joudrey with Lynette Wahlstrom at the piano.  They sound very pleasant.

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Songbird

songbird - coverLayla Claire is one of a handful of young Canadian singers making something of a splash on both sides of the Atlantic with major roles in Glyndebourne, Zürich, Toronto and Salzburg and an upcoming Pamina at the Met.  Her debut recital CD Songbird, with pianist Marie-Eve Scarfone, was recently issued on the ATMA Classique label.  It’s an interesting and varied collection of songs though never straying very far from familiar recital territory.  It’s tilted towards French (Gounod, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Bizet) and German (Wolf, Strauss, Brahms, Liszt) repertoire but there’s also Quilter, Barber, Argento and Britten (the comparatively rare Seascape which is, oddly, omitted from the CD liner).

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