Last night was the fifth concert in memory of Rachel Krehm’s sister Elizabeth. This year it was held in the rather cavernous and imposing Christ Church Deer Park, an Anglican church at Yonge and St. Clair. The concert opened with an elegiac piece for strings written by Jean Coulthard for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Then Rachel gave us a beautiful and moving account of Mahler’s Rückert Lieder. Um Mitternacht(*) is a particular favourite of mine and seemed especially fitting here. It was the full orchestral setting with Evan Mitchell conducting his extraordinary orchestra. They were back after the break for a thoroughly compelling account of Tchaikovsky’s great sixth symphony Pathétique. What’s remarkable is that this isn’t an orchestra that has a permanent basis. It’s a group of musicians who come together for these concerts and make great music on modest rehearsal time. It’s especially impressive that these things always seem to happen in huge churches with churchy acoustics rather than a concert hall and they still sound terrific. As in previous years, this was a fund raiser for the ICU at St. Mike’s and once again it looked like mission accomplished as there was a very decent audience in the church.
Today saw the premiere of the Canadian Art Song Project’s second annual commission (My review of last year’s effort). This time it was Norbert Palej’s Small Songs; a setting of ten texts from Jan Zwicky’s Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. It’s an ambitious piece drawing on a wide range of vocal and piano colours and occasionally on non-standard technique. That said, although sounding like a work from the 21st century it’s really quite accessible to anyone with any familiarity at all with modern art song. Some passages were really lovely. I especially like the haunting and clever setting of Small song on being lost which evokes the loneliness of the sea and the self. The piece that followed; Small song for the moon in the daytime was also rather special ending movingly on “the wind is nowhere to be found”. All in all, great integration of text and music as art song should be. The composer “warned” us up front that the music was extremely difficult to perform because he was writing it for two very fine musicians. They didn’t disappoint. Tenor Lawrence Wiliford used all of his range; dynamically, colourwise and pitchwise to give a very text sensitive reading and he was very well accompanied by long time collaborator Steven Philcox at the piano.