A Left Coast — British Colombia Composers Showcased

I don’t understand the absence of Canadian classical music in this country. Canada has a wealth of talented composers (both living and dead). Their music compares favorably to that written in the U.S. 

And yet recordings — never mind performances — of Canadian classical music are hard to find.

This release is accurately titled “A Left Coast.” It refers to British Columbia which, like California, borders on the Pacific Ocean. Tyler Duncan and Erika Switzer present a strong program of art songs. And not just songs by Canadian composers, but Canadian composers in British Columbia. 

Many have some association with the University of British Columbia.  But this music is far from academic. Most impressive to me was the sheer variety of styles presented. 

Imam Habbib’s selections draw on the tradition of German lied. The late Jocelyn Morlock’s “Involuntary Love Songs” are beautifully crafted modal tunes. Yet they have just a hint of darkness. “Snowflakes” by Melissa Hui blends Debussy Impressionism and First Nations musical traditions.

Some of the composers used Canadian poets in their texts. Jean Coulthard set the poetry of fellow UBC colleague Louis MacKay. Her music has a decidedly contemporary — but tonal — sound. Leslie Yueda used poems by Lorna Crozier. “Plato’s Angel” is aggressively chromatic and is sometimes atonal.

Tyler Duncan sings two works he commissioned. “Something Like That” by Stephen Chatman sounds like art song meets musical theater — to the benefit of both genres. Jeffery Ryan’s “Everything Already Lost” was co-commissioned by Duncan and Switzer. It’s a strangely evocative and haunting work.

Duncan and Switzer are strongly invested in this music. And that comes through in their performances. Just about every track made me want to further explore the composer I was listening to. And there’s a lot to explore. Although it might not be readily available. 

Highly recommended to anyone who appreciates Lieder or just darned good music.

 A Left Coast
Tyler Duncan, baritone; Erika Switzer, piano
Music by Iman Habibi, Jean Coulthard, Jocelyn Morlock, Stephen Chatman, Leslie Uyeda, and Jeffrey Ryan
Bridge Records

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