The Canadian Art Song Project: Cloud Light
The Canadian Art Song Project: Cloud Light

Written by Robert Tomas, Published: 23 February 2016
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Cloud Light – Songs of Norbert Palej
Bogdanowicz; McGillivray; Wiliford; Woodley; Philcox
Centrediscs CMCCD 22315

The song or chanson or lied died with Benjamin Britten – or that is the impression you might have gotten by visiting your neighbourhood record store or any concert hall. While Brahms, Strauss, Schubert and Mahler song cycles are everywhere, very little in that genre seems to have originated since the middle of the 20th century. It is more that the song itself has changed, rather than disappeared. Pianist Steven Philcox and tenor Lawrence Wiliford, directors of the Canadian Art Song Project, summed it up succinctly in the liner notes to this recording: “…the experimentation of the 20th century avant-garde rejected the intimacy that is inherent to the genre…”

Enter Norbert Palej (Pah-Lay), a Polish-born composer, still in his 30s, currently teaching at the University of Toronto. He restores to the song what for centuries was its golden measure: the intricate relationship between poetry and music, the latter being an emotional outgrowth of the former. All cycles included on this disc evoke an earlier era, with respect for the text and an intimacy of interpretation. Cloud Light, not written for any specific voice, invites comparisons with les nuits d’étéby Berlioz. Most surprisingly, despite being an homage to the 19th- and early 20th-century tradition of song, the work sounds utterly contemporary and modern. It is as if after 50 years in the wilderness, the genre is coming back into its own. A welcome return!