Found Frozen is a new CD from Centrediscs featuring songs by Jeffrey Ryan. The centrepiece of the disc is his Miss Carr in Seven Scenes. It’s a setting of extracts from Emily Carr’s notebooks for mezzo-soprano and piano performed here by Krisztina Szabó and Steven Philcox. I’ve heard them do the piece twice live, including the premier, and I really don’t have much to add to what I wrote then. It’s a terrific piece.
The first set on the disc though is Found Frozen. It’s a setting of three poems by Helen Hunt Jackson about Death and Remembrance. It’s scored for soprano and piano and sits quite high much of the time. The piano part is busy and somewhat minimalistic. It’s sung by Danika Lorèn with Steven Philcox again at the piano. It’s very good singing indeed. There are long sustained notes that are navigated with aplomb and her diction is excellent, even in the very high passages.
I found out yesterday that Vancouver based composer Jeffrey Ryan has won the 2021 Art Song Prize from the National Association of Singing Teachers (a US based body) for his song cycle Everything Already Lost. This is believed to be a first for a Canadian composer. Now, readers with good memories might recall that I was decidedly impressed by Ryan’s Miss Carr in Seven Scenes which was the 2018 CASP commission so, obviously, I was keen to check out the new work.
So last night’s Venice to Constantinople web cast didn’t come off due to the general inability of people to get together right now. However Beste Kalender and Ryan Harper did manage to produce a short video. You can see Beste singing a piano accompanied version of Hahn’s À Chloris followed by three songs by Komitas recorded by Beste with Sinfonia Toronto and Nurhan Arman. The three songs are Cinar Es (Tall as a poplar tree), Tahsin Incirci (Varna Songs) and Al Ayloughs (My Red Shawl). It’s a nice way to spend fifteen minutes. The video can be found here.
This year’s Canadian Art Song Project commission is a setting of poems by EJ Pratt by Dean Burry entitled Sea Variations. It was given its first performance yesterday in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre by Michael Colvin and Stephen Philcox. The texts all deal with the moods of the sea and seem curiously archaic for the 1920s when they were written. They are much more reminiscent of, say, Matthew Arnold than Yeats, let alone Eliot. They have a certain power though and anybody who knows the North Atlantic will easily appreciate why they might appeal to fellow Newfoundlander Burry.
Last night’s early evening free “shuffle” concert at Heliconian Hall featured Krisztina Szabó and Stephen Philcox. They started out with Xavier Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras; a lively collection of Spanish songs featuring scenes from Cuban life. The songs, very much French influenced, varied in mood from quite sombre to wild and were presented with skill and wit. The main event though was the reprise of two works that Philcox and Szabó premiered in March at Walter Hall; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan and Four Short Songs by John Beckwith. I reviewed that March performance here and really don’t see any reason to revise my opinion about the works or the performances except to note that last night, of course, Krisztina sang all the Beckwith songs.
Last night, at Walter Hall, the Canadian Art Song Project presented their latest commission; Miss Carr in Seven Scenes by Jeffrey Ryan. The overall standard of the CASP commissions since Lawrence Wiliford and Steven Philcox launched the endeavour has been very high. The Ryan piece maintains that.
Last night’s TSO program started off with a sort of Remembrance Day pot pourri; pipes, bugles, a bit of poetry, an excerpt of Vaughan Williams in between and finally a rather beautiful account of The Lark Ascending with Jonathan Crow playing the solo from high up in the Gallery. Once upon a time the TSO would do Remembrance Day by performing an appropriate work or works, Britten’s War Requiem for example. I think that might actually be a more effective way of remembering.
This 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.
The Toronto production of Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy opened last night at Studio 42 at the CBC Centre. It’s the third and final instalment in the series of Ivany/Mokzrewski adaptations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, following on from Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn. Like the earlier pieces it’s updated, site specific and makes a lot of references to social media. The schtick here is that it’s a reality TV dating show. Dora and Felicity are yet to meet Elmo and Fernando in the flesh though they have become engaged via social media and through the prior episodes of the show. Tonight is the season finale and there is one big test left. Can they be tempted by two strange men? Show host Donald L. Fonzo and girl handler Despina will make sure they are maximally tempted. The rest you can work out.
So the cat’s out of the bag. The long awaited where, when and who of Against the Grain’s Toronto run of A Little Too Cozy have been revealed. A Little Too Cozyis the third and final instalment in a trilogy of Mozart “transladaptations” developed by AtG,which place the works in appropriate, non traditional opera, venues and which use English language librettos by Joel Ivany bringing the stories into a contemporary context. The first two instalments; Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn, sold out their Toronto runs.