A Left Coast
Tyler Duncan (baritone)
Erika Switzer (piano)
rec. 2022, Roy Barnett Recital Hall, UBC School of Music, Vancouver, Canada
Sung texts enclosed.
Reviewed as download from press preview
Bridge 9574 [65] 

“A Left Coast is our heartfelt playlist for the place we will always call home: British Columbia”,  Erika Switzer and Tyler Duncan write in the foreword to this album. British Columbia is the westernmost province of Canada, situated between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains, and for cosmopolitan musicians like Erika and Tyler, returning to places where their roots are is always a kind of homecoming. This album is a homage to their particular connections to “Vancouver’s communities, geography, and spirit, ever evolving, [which] continue to nourish [them] as artists.” They continue: “We are constantly inspired by the vibrant new music scene of Canada’s West Coast. Drawing on themes of identity, self-knowledge, wonder, and nature, we gathered further songs written by treasured friends and colleagues, with whom we crossed paths at UBC’s School of Music: Stephen Chatman, Jean Coulthard, Iman Habibi, Melissa Hui, Jocelyn Morlock, and Leslie Uyeda.” These names are probably largely unknown outside of Canada, and certainly of Europe. 

The compositions here span several decades, from Jean Coulthard’s Three Love Songs – finished in 1948, and then adapted for voice and strings in 1954 – to Jeffrey Ryan’s Everything Already Lost which was commissioned by Tyler and Erika; the notes do not say explicitly how recently. Stephen Chatman’s Eight Love Songs for High Baritone Voice and Piano was also written for Tyler and Erika 

in 2010. Only one of them, Something like that, is recorded here, but, on the other hand, it immediately became one of my favourites, with its laid-back blues feeling. Otherwise, I have to admit that the greatness of several of these songs eluded me. That probably has a lot to do with the similarity of their moods and tempos. The first two, Iman Habibi’s False Morning and The River-Lip, both settings of medieval Persian poetry in English translations, made a deep impression, initially because the piano accompaniments were so fresh and surprising – and that is true of most of the following tracks. The slow lyrical flow of the vocal part also evokes a kind of religious feeling, a feeling strengthened by the careful and utterly nuanced singing with impeccable legato – a recurring experience throughout the programme. Having heard Tyler and Erika in the flesh some twelve years ago in more traditional repertoire, I remembered his expressivity and power just as much as his honeyed pianissimos, and he has retained these capacities. But twelve years is a long time in a singer’s life, and unfortunately an annoyingly prominent vibrato has crept during the last few years, something which also was noticeable in the previous disc, English Songs à la française, also on Bridge, issued a couple of years ago. That is a minor defect, however, and, by and large, he is still a sensitive interpreter of art songs. 

I am certain that renewed acquaintance with Jean Coulthard’s love songs will open up them for me, as will Jocelyn Morlock’s Involuntary Love Songs. Sadly,Morlock passed away earlier this year, and this disc is dedicated to her memory. It was also her number that set fire to the first half of the recital with Matches – a swinging boogie-woogie performed with infectious intensity. The concluding four-movement cycle Everything Already Lost is also music to return to. Loneliness is the overriding theme, and the frames of reference are far-flung, from the influences of Bill Evans’ harmonic language, via the magically chirping sounds of crickets in Autumn Again and the bewitching nocturnal Night Music,and ending up with Schumann: Fantasie Op. 17 – the most intricate of all. Schumann’s famous composition was itself influenced by Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte and he also quoted other phrases from Beethoven’s music.  Jan Zwicky, whose poems Jeffrey Ryan sets, also quotes from the texts by Alois Jeitteles set by Beethoven. There are, in other words, several layers of references. One needs to immerse oneself in the text and the music more than once to get the full measure of this work. I have so far only got halfway to full understanding. 

In spite my reservations, I find this to be a valuable addition to the song repertoire, and it is performed with deep involvement and expertise.  

Göran Forsling  

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Iman Habibi (b.1985)
1. False Morning (2014)
2. The River-Lip
Jean Coulthard (1908-2000)
Three Love Songs (1948)3. Stand, swaying lightly
4. I often wonder
5. There is no darkness
Jocelyn Morlock (1969-2023)
Involuntary Love Songs: (2008)6. Thaw
7. Matches
8. Script
Stephen Chatman (b.1950)
9. Something Like That (from Eight Love Songs, 2010)
Leslie Uyeda (b.1953)
Plato’s Angel: (2009/2010)10. Plato’s Angel
11. Angel of Roses
12. Twilight’s Angel
13. Angel of the Moon
Melissa Hui (b.1966)
14. Snowflakes
Jeffrey Ryan (b.1962)
Everything Already Lost: (2020)
15. Bill Evans: Alone
16. Autumn Again
17. Night Music
18. Schumann: Fantaisie, Op. 17