I'm a bit late to the party here. Everyone is talking about Peter-Anthony Togni's new opera Isis and Osiris, which recently had its premiere in Toronto. I'm hoping a CD, or better yet, a DVD/Blu-ray, will be forthcoming. This disc of Responsio was released by the excellent Canadian label ATMA Classique last September, but somehow I missed it. It was nominated for a 2016 Juno award (Canada's version of the Grammys).
The sound-world of Peter-Anthony Togni's Responsio is completely unique. The great 14th century masterpiece Messe de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut is completely enveloped in the 21st century sound of a composer emerging as one of Canada's greats. A perfectly-integrated quartet of great solo voices - Suzie LeBlanc, Andrea Ludwig, Charles Daniels and John Potter - is likewise surrounded by the amazing sounds that emerge from Jeff Reilly's bass clarinet. Here's an instrument that we didn't know we were missing! Reilly, by the way, doubles as producer on the disc, and nails the technical aspects of the recording while doing exactly the same musically.
When I first listened to this music I imagined the musicians in the beautiful space pictured on the CD cover: the Cathedral at Reims, where Machaut probably composed his Messe, some time around 1365. The recording was actually made at the Eglise St. Bernard, on the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores in lovely Nova Scotia. I really regret missing visiting this church on our Maritimes trip last summer. We should have taken Highway 1 instead of the faster 101 between Weymouth and Yarmouth!
You can get a feel for that space in this excellent promotional video:
One of my favourite musical trends relating to what we used to call Early Music is the interaction between old and new music. I agree with Stephen Hough, in his recent blog post at The Telegraph: we needn't apologize for presenting classic musical works. But:
If our concert halls are like museums for music that doesn't mean we should just unthinkingly trundle out the same pieces every season. We might need to hang or light a painting better, display it alongside something different, rethink our education programmes, explain its beauty and significance more imaginatively, send it to the restorers.We absolutely have to take every opportunity to make those connections between old and new. This might involve programming old and new music on the same program or recording, or it might be an organic re-mix like this thoughtful, vital work, which I believe will be seen as an important Canadian composition for a long, long time.
And speaking of museums, if I hurry with this review, I can provide some useful information to Montrealers. The original cast will be performing Responsio at one of my favourite museums in the world, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on April 20, 2016. Wish I could be there!