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.
So, the Schubert is fine and it’s great to have a recording of a rarity but the real reason to buy this disk is for Fiona Ryan’s fascinating nine song cycle. The forces are again Batt, Décosse and Docking. The texts are mostly Scott again, though occasionally translated into French. The music is really interesting and varied. It draws on Scottish traditional influences to a certain extent but it’s quite modern with judicious use of chromaticism and extended techniques for both voice and piano. Overall it plays very well to the mood of Scott’s tale of Highland derring do without even a hint of 19th century sentimentality. It’s a piece I really look forward to listening to again soon. Impeccable performances again.
The recording is nicely engineered. Despite the use of three different Nova Scotia churches there is no obvious change in the acoustic. It’s clear and a bit dry which, I think, suits art song. There’s a generous booklet with full texts, bios and an interesting essay by Ryan.
Halifax is rather off my musical radar (good fish and chips though) but it’s really nice to see some of the folks, once seen in Toronto, who’ve moved out that way produce such an intriguing and worthwhile recording.