John Plant

John Plant
Ensemble Prima
Mélanie Léonard



“The surprise is how good these pieces are. The scena, the extended, dramatic vocal aria in particular puts up obstacles in a composer's way. It can easily degenerate into mere musical meandering, mainly because unlike more contained and explicit song-poetry, it forces a composer to invent a musical structure. Many writers go the "easy" route of responding in the moment. The results tend to natter. On the other hand, the usual composing strategies tend to make hash of the narrative flow of a poem. The composer has the task of shaping a coherent musical structure to that narrative. It seems that only the really great vocal composers bring it off: Brahms, Mahler, Wagner, Strauss, Stravinsky, Mussorgsky, Vaughan Williams, Debussy, Fauré, Britten, Barber, and so on. Plant succeeds in every item here.
Plant's literary taste is not only impeccable, but shows a fellow who reads widely and deeply…
Plant speaks tonally…
If I had to compare him to another composer, I'd say Barber, especially the Barber of the extended vocal works: Dover Beach, Knoxville, and Andromache's Farewell. There's that same integrity of vocal line and an essentially Romantic outlook without eschewing the grit of dissonance and the ambiguous key center. Three poems get settings ranging from ten to nearly twenty minutes. It takes real control to keep something that long together. My favorite setting was probably of Lorca's Romance sonámbulo. Plant takes advantage of textual repetitions to suggest ballad structure within something essentially organic form. The point is, however, that it does have form.
Most of the performers, including the composer himself at the piano, do really well. The songs sweep along. [Jocelyne Fleury is] an intelligent, incredibly musical singer, who can instill you with the poems' emotions. … she reminded me of the incomparable Jennie Tourel…
...this disc should appeal to listeners on the lookout for distinguished songs.”
Steve Schwartz, ClassicalNet - January 2012
"listening to this reveals a major talent that deserves to crop up in international recitals... Sound is airy and well defined..  MSR’s admirable presentation extends to good notes, texts, and translations."
Rayfield, Fanfare - January / February 2011
"Plant’s music is striking... the writing for solo piano and chamber orchestra, in the accompaniments, is colorful and well crafted. The three longer pieces on the album display a natural sense for theatrical vividness."
Burwasser, Fanfare - January / February 2011
"[This] is beautiful, thoughtful music... Jocelyn Fleury's diction is clear... [she has a] rich voice... her singing is expressive... Composer Plant is the fine pianist, and Melanie Leonard leads sensitive playing by her Montreal-based Ensemble Prima."
Kilpatrick, American Record Guide - September / October 2010
"[John Plant has] a regard for language that is purely metaphysical and a skill in handling words musically which is uniquely his own... It is an inspiring sampling of music... Everything is sung by Jocelyne Fleury with a sense of wonder and a voice that seems to feel no fear at exploring timbres combined with a relish for words that reach into the poets' hearts. In addition to his deeply sensitive piano playing, Plant contributes evocatively descriptive liner-notes which are so beautifully written they can almost be read as poetry themselves. The recordings have a slightly dusky, penetrating air."
Laurence Vittes, Gramophone - July 2010
La notte bella, written in the trenches during World War I, traces the mysterious emergence of joy out of the stagnation of despair. Given the extreme conciseness of the poem, much of this emotional progress is articulated by the cello and violin. A sombre and lyrical threnody at the heart of the piece yields to exuberant bell-like pizzicati and an ecstatic vocalise for the singer. The work was first performed in Montreal, at the Chapelle Historique du Bon Pasteur, in 2001.

Romance sonámbulo, the finest of Lorca’s Gypsy Ballads, has haunted me since adolescence. The narrative hinted at in its surrealistic imagery is that of a smuggler, pursued by the Civil Guard, trying to reach the house of the girl who is waiting for him. He meets the father, who is in a state of despair; the two of them ascend to the roof terrace, where they find the girl floating in the cistern, perhaps a suicide. I wanted to give this work an almost operatic dimension, while still maintaining the simplicity and lyrical impetuousness of the ballad form. In the conversations between the two men, I aimed to give each their own identity and character. The music associated with the word green, symbol of ardent desire, recurs throughout the work; in its varied guises, I have tried to convey the tragic and hallucinatory intensity of the action. This theme closes the work in the form of unfurling waves of sound, overwhelming the souls of the two men devastated by the death of the gypsy girl. Romance sonámbulo was first performed with full orchestra by the Montreal Chamber Orchestra under Wanda Kaluzny, in 1999. The chamber version was premiered by Ensemble Prima under Mélanie Léonard, in 2006.

Babel is a blessing stems from my lifelong infatuation with languages. I date my vocation as a composer from the chance discovery of a bilingual libretto of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at the age of ten. It is a collection of songs rather than a cycle, and the performers should feel free to choose among them and to order them as they please. An orchestral version of Babel was premiered by the Montreal Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Wanda Kaluzny in 2008. The voice/piano version was premiered by the present performers in November 2009 in Halifax.

in the world of zero is about the crisis and rebirth which occur when one is ready to make a connection, to love. Love happens out of ‘the matrix of ultimate alarm’ and results in a new birth, but also in the annihilation of the old self. There is a point - the point of zero- where nothing exists except the possibility of this new connection. All other connections, assumptions, beliefs, habits, identities, are suspended or disappear. The clusters and percussion of the beginning are a kind of inner Big Bang, the volcanic, tumultuous matrix from which love emerges. The work alternates between storm and elated peace; later, the storm itself becomes ecstatic and acquires its own song. We emerge, new, into the strangeness of a new universe. in the world of zero was first performed in Ottawa by L’Ensemble du Jeu Présent, under the direction of Paolo Bellomia, in 1996.

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A singer of great versatility and an ardent defender of new music, mezzo- soprano Jocelyne Fleury has taken part in many Canadian premieres of contemporary works in Canada and throughout Europe. Among the composers whose work she has introduced are Vivier, Mather, Evangelista, Brégent, Shinohara, Boucher, Cage, Lauber and Stockhausen, including three operatic premières: Vivier’s Kopernikus; Saint-Marcoux’s Transit, and Plant’s The Shadowy Waters. Fleury is heard in performance on stage, television and disc, and on the airwaves of Radio-Canada and Radio-France. With the support of the Canada Council, composers Bruce Mather, Michel Longtin, Walter Boudreau and John Plant have been commissioned to write works especially for her voice. Her repertoire also encompasses a wide range of traditional operatic and song repertoire from all periods; she has a particular affinity for Spanish and Russian repertoire, and for the music of Bach and Mahler. Jocelyne Fleury has been the guest artist of many orchestras and ensembles, including the Orchestre Philharmonique de Liège, l’Ensemble Itinéraire de Paris, National Arts Centre Orchestra, l’Orchestre Métropolitain, Societé de Musique Contemporaine du Québec, Les Evenements du Neuf, L’Ensemble du Jeu Présent, Ensemble Orphée, Ensemble Les Nations, Quatuor Molinari, Montreal Chamber Orchestra and Ensemble Prima. She has performed in international festivals, including those of Montepulciano in Italy and Almeida in Great Britain. She has released a Compact Disc (SNE 629) with Quatuor Claudel entitled “Canciones del Alma” that features works by Plant, Wagner, Obradors and Barber. Fleury has taught voice at McGill University, University of Montreal, Vanier College, and Concordia University. She is presently engaged in developing Qi-Song, a method of singing she has devised which incorporates techniques from the Chinese practice of energy manipulation, known as Qigong.

Mélanie Léonard is known for her vibrant conducting and versatility of style, and continues to prove her virtuosity on the classical as well as the jazz scene. 2007 marked her first collaboration with the Montreal Jazz Festival as she led the orchestra which accompanied Colin James at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier (Place des Arts, Montreal) for the “Jazz à l’année” series. She returned to the same hall in 2009 to conduct in Pink Martini’s symphonic shows during the Jazz Festival. She has served as Artistic Director of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Classical Choir and the “École des Jeunes” Youth String Orchestra at University of Montreal. Ms. Léonard is also the founder, Artistic Director and conductor of Ensemble Prima, a Montreal-based chamber ensemble devoted to twentieth and twenty-first century music, widely praised for their exciting and innovative performances. Ms. Léonard holds a Doctorate in orchestral conducting from the University of Montreal, where she studied with Maestri Paolo Bellomia and Jean-François Rivest after earning her Masters’ at the Hartt School of Music under Maestro Christopher Zimmerman. She has twice participated in the International Workshop for Conductors in the Czech Republic, and in the summer of 2004 attended the Bang on a Can Summer Institute of Music at MASS MoCA, where she worked intensively with members of the Bang on a Can All Stars. In early 2009, Ms. Léonard was awarded the post of Resident Conductor with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Composer-pianist John Plant studied composition with George Todd at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he also pursued intensive literary and classical studies. A Woodrow Wilson Fellow in comparative literature at Harvard, he interrupted his studies in order to avoid military service in Vietnam. Emigrating to Canada in 1968, he studied composition atMcGill University with Bruce Mather and Charles Palmer. A series of works for choreographers Peter Boneham and Jean-Pierre Perrault of Le Groupe de la Place Royale culminated in the dance-operas What Happened, The Collector of Cold Weather; and Faustus: An Opera for Dancers. These works were premiered at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and subsequently performed on tour throughout Canada, England and France. His works reflect his intense love of literature, languages, and the human voice. Among the poets whose work he has set to music are Sappho, St. John of the Cross, W. B. Yeats, E.E. Cummings and Lawrence Raab, in addition to the poets represented on this disc. His opera, The Shadowy Waters, was first performed at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall in February 2005. His works have been performed by the Molinari and Claudel Quartets, the Montreal Chamber Orchestra, the Talisker Players, l’Ensemble du Jeu Présent, Ensemble Phoenix and Ensemble Prima. Plant has recently completed a setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem Sandpiper for soprano Suzie LeBlanc. Born in Yonkers, New York in 1945, John Plant taught composition and music history at Concordia University from 1993-2008; he retired in 2008 to devote himself to composition. He is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the American Music Centre. He currently resides in Nova Scotia.


JOHN PLANT (b.1945)

La notte bella (Giuseppe Ungaretti)

Romance sonámbulo (Federico García Lorca)

Babel is a blessing

Eight Songs in Eight Languages
Pipe song (Anonymous, Hellenistic Greek)
Hier, l’inachevable (Yves Bonnefoy)
Seconda fuga (Umberto Saba)
Anoche cuando dormía (Antonio Machado)
Untergang (Georg Trakl)
Song of a man who has come through
(D.H. Lawrence)
Lament on the death of a sparrow (Catullus)
Chornyi voron (Aleksandr Blok)

in the world of zero (Göran Sonnevi, trans. Rika Lesser)

MSR Classics