The Canadian Art Song Project branched out last night with a ticketed concert at The Extension Room. The opening number was the latest CASP commission; The Living Spectacle by Erik Ross to words by Baudelaire translated by Roy Campbell. Like a lot of modern song the three movements were all quite piano forward and hard on the singer. The second text, The Evil Monk, certainly brought out the darker and more dramatic side of Ambur Braid’s voice while the third, The Death of Artists, was cruelly high even for someone with Ambur’s coloratura chops. She coped very well and Steven Philcox’ rendering of the piano part was suitably virtuosic.
Next up was Carla Huhtahnen singing Strauss’ Drei Ophelia Lieder. This was a really good piece for Carla. She’s always into the text and she was both very beautiful and very affecting here. The first half of the program closed out with Ambur back to sing Libby Larsen’s Try Me, Good King; Last words of the wives of Henry VIII. The five movements are very varied from the impassioned, angry, frustrated Anne Boleyn to the wickedly playful equivocations of Anne of Cleves. Ambur managed to find the right tone for each movement and I wasn’t surprised to find out later just how much she is into these histories.
After the intermission we got a choreographed version of Brian Harman’s piece, Sewing the Earthworm. I was impressed by this piece when it premiered and I still think it is a work of some significance; both text and music uncompromisingly modern in tone and technique. It also lent itself well to being presented as a choreographed piece. Jenn Nicholson’s approach matched the music in it’s aggressive, spiky movement, and the text in it’s use of dirt as a symbol of progressive bodily decay. Carla did a lot more than sing here and at one point was singing while being held upside down by Jenn. All in all a well thought out and executed piece. Special mention to Steven here for pulling off a piece that requires an assortment of extreme piano techniques.
The Extension Room was full last night with some people standing. OK, it’s not a terribly big space but once again we saw that art song isn’t dead in Toronto. When it’s more than a dude in tails standing by a piano singing Schubert people will come out. Well done CASP!