This year’s new work from the Canadian Art Song Project, Marjan Mozetich’s Enchantments of Gwendolyn, was premiered yesterday in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. It’s a setting of four really interesting poems by Gwendolyn MacEwen for mezzo-soprano and piano. The first and last pieces; Sunday Morning Sermon and A Coin for the Ferryman are rather beautifulmeditative pieces and frame the two inner songs nicely. These inner two, for me, was where much of the interest really lay. Waiting for You was a blues inflected number of considerable interest, in some ways recalling Michael Tippett but in others entirely original. The third piece; The Tao of Physics, is a setting of a piece linking sub-atomic physics with the cosmology of The Vedas. That’s not exactly an original idea but it’s always an interesting one to explore and, by accident or design, Mozetich does so in a manner that somewhat recall John Adams’ treatment of the same basic ideas. We get a long, impassioned, vocal line floating over an arpeggiated piano accompaniment. It’s impressive and effective. All four pieces were beautifully performed by Allyson McHardy and Adam Sherkin. McHardy’s warm. dark mezzo seemed perfect for the material and listening was like wallowing in hot chocolate (more lurid similes did suggest themselves but this is a family blog). She can sing the blues too. Who would have thought it.
Preceding the main event we were given performances of some older Canadian works unearthed by Messrs Philcox and Wiliford from the Planet of Lost Things. Nathalie Paulin and Robert Kortgaard performed three sets of songs to French texts; Clermont Pépin’s Cycle-Èluard of 1953, Lionel Daunais’ 1973 piece Deux poèmes de Paul Éluard and André Prévosts Musiques Peintes from 1953. These were all pleasant enough though not especially distinctive. What was very pleasing was a chance to hear Ms. Paulin in this repertoire. She’s a fine art song singer who articulates text and music with great clarity and feeling. Kortgaard was a suitably sympathetic foil.
The other offering of the day was Godfrey Ridout’s Cantiones Mysticae of 1953; a setting of three John Donne pieces from the Holy Sonnets. It was written for soprano and orchestra but giver here by dramatic soprano Joni Henson with Robert Kortgaard at the piano. I’m not sure the full on dramatisch approach works terribly well in that space and I think the work might have been better served by being given in its original form in a larger space.
CASP has a bunch more commissions lined up for coming seasons and I look forward eagerly to their unveiling.