Ian Cusson in the RBA

Ian Cusson, soon to be composer in residence at the COC, is one of Canada’s most interesting composing talents.  Yesterday we got to see both sides of his heritage; Métis and French-Canadian, displayed in a lunchtime concert in the RBA.  The first piece up was Five Songs on Poems by Marilyn Dupont.  I had heard some of these in a version for piano and voice before but this was the first time I had heard the whole piece in an arrangement for voice and piano quintet.  Marion Newman was again the singer with the composer on piano and Amy Spurr, Sarah Wiebe, Emily Hiemstra and Alice Kim on strings.  I really like this piece.  I find Dumont’s spiky, bitterly ironic poems very thought provoking and moving (though clearly not designed to be sung).  Cusson’s accompaniment is fascinating.  My overall impression is that he doesn’t write notes that don’t need to be there.  If the instrumental playing is sometimes dense, at others it’s sparse to non-existent.  He’s especially restrained with the piano.  There’s a lovely passage at the beginning of “Helen Betty Osborne” where the low strings create an atmosphere before the violins and then the voice come in.  The vocal line is singable, just, which is in itself skilful given how difficult to set the words are.  The performances were terrific by all concerned.  Look at the words for yourself.  At the end of this post I’ve reproduced the words of the first poem; “Letter to Sir John A. MacDonald”.

COC Free Concert Series - songs of Ian Cusson - 5Mar19-8634

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