CASP at 21C

Last night’s Canadian Art Song Project, part of the Conservatory’s 21C festival, was sold out.  Yep, a sold out concert of contemporary Canadian art song not featuring an A-list singer.  Clearly Mercury is in retrograde or something.  Anyway, the first half of the concert featured baritone Iain MacNeil with one of my favourite collaborative pianists Mélisande Sinsoulier.  They gave us Lloyd Burritt’s The Moth Poem to texts by Robin Blaser.  This is a basically tonal work with a piano part that I found more interesting than the vocal writing (common enough in contemporary art song).  There was some nice delicate singing from Ian and complete mastery of the intricate piano part by Mélisande.  Andrew Staniland’s setting of Wallace Stevens’ Peter Quince at the Clavier followed.  This is a more ambitious work with quite a complex soundscape and a piano part that requires a range of technique as much of it is written to sound “mechanical” as a nod to the title of the poem.  Oddly, despite the title, the text is a rich but highly allusive rendering of the story of Susanna and the Elders and a reminder of how much a really interesting text can enhance a song.  I’d like to hear this again.

The second half of the concert was Ana Sokolović’s dawn always begins in the bones presented by the same team that give it in the RBA last week.  A detailed review seems superfluous as I don’t think I’d change much of what I wrote then.  It’s CASP’s most ambitious commission to date and a very exciting one.  The one comment I’d make on second hearing is that I wonder about the order of the pieces.  The lively, funny stuff (and how good it is to hear an art song audience laugh out loud) mostly comes early in the cycle while the very long, and rather somber, waking from a dream by nick avis is followed by the Victorian/sentimental Lucy Maud Mongomery piece A Winter Dawn before the reprise of the opening.  Maybe inserting one of Christian Bök’s playful syllabic pieces between the avis and the Montgomery would enhance the vibrancy of the overall cycle?  Still, a fine and unusual work.  One for Centrediscs I hope.

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