|Neil Beckmann, Amber Evans, and Francesca Ferrara|
Most vocal recitals we've reviewed include works of the 19th c.--our favorite. Last night we attended a very special recital that jumped from the Baroque period to what we would call Post-Modern, skipping over the 19th c. What made the recital special was not only the unique aspect of the choices but the excellence and commitment of the performers. These were works that the artists enjoyed performing; one could tell by their enthusiasm.
Soprano Amber Evans has an engaging stage presence and an impressive instrument, the texture of which worked extremely well with the acoustics of the beautiful sanctuary of St. John's in the Village, the Rector of which, Graeme Napier, is a real music lover. One would be hard-pressed to find a night there without a recital!
Ms. Evans' musical partner was Neil Beckmann who seemed as comfortable with the exotic theorbo as he was with guitars (both acoustic and electric), and the lute. The pair was joined by flutist Francesca Ferrara for the final selection on the program which we will get to later.
Of the Baroque portion of the program, we were captivated by Barbara Strozzi's "L'Eraclito Amorosa", a rather typical lament of someone with an unfaithful lover. It was expressed in Strozzi's unique and heart-rending style which was well matched by Ms. Evans' passionate delivery in the manner favored by singer/scholar Jessica Gould of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts. The Italian was perfumed with garlic, as it should be. We loved the melodic line which was enhanced by dynamic variety. The extended melismatic passages served as a vocalise, showcasing Ms. Evans' gifts. Mr. Beckmann's theorbo provided worthy accompaniment.
Also from the 17th c. was Michel Lambert's "Vos Méspris" which delighted our ears. The text is another cri de coeur from a scorned lover. Apparently that was a favorite topic in that epoch, one which inspired so much gorgeous music. Again we loved the way the theorbo sounded with the voice.
From the 16th c. we heard several songs by John Dowland, our favorite of which was "In Darkness Let Me Dwell" because of the way Dowland married music to the text. The texture of Ms. Evans' voice and Mr. Beckmann's lute produced overtones which bounced around the room, creating an arresting effect.
From an even earlier period (15th c.) was Guillaume Dufay's "Mon chier amy". On the page, the consoling words are spelled differently from the more familiar spelling of the 17th c. French but we had no trouble understanding Ms. Evans' excellent diction, which impressed our native born Francophone friend.
We confess we have struggled with words to describe the Post-Modern works on the program. We always feel a bit lost when there is no melody but we can't say we were bored or alienated. Let's just say we found them curious and interesting. There was a haunting flavor to Marcos Balter's "Pos que nada que dure ou que durando". The Portuguese offered no challenge to our linguistically gifted soprano, nor did the scoring for cowbells and triangle. There were keening sounds and a very delicate decrescendo at the end. Mr. Beckmann accompanied with acoustic guitar and whistles (!). Yes, whistles.
Madeleine Isaksson's "Därimellian" requires the singer to make up syllables. The two artists created some unique overtones as Mr. Beckmann did some strange moves on an electric guitar--portamenti and vibrato (to use vocal terms with which we are familiar). There was nothing to hold onto except for a 3-note motif.
Anna Korsun's "Tollers Zelle" showed off Ms. Evans' facility with some strange bird cries and with the spoken German text at the end of the piece. Mr. Beckmann played electric guitar with more strange techniques and both took turns with what appeared to be a child's toy, a kind of music box played with a rotating handle. We certainly didn't know what to make of it or how it related to the text.
Kaija Saariaho's "Adjö" was visually interesting with some vigorous beating of chimes and tambourine. Flutist Francesca Ferrara produced some strange overtones juxtaposed with acoustic guitar. The vocal line was nothing if not spiky. The text was Swedish.
On more familiar territory we heard Benjamin Britten's Six Folk Songs for Soprano and Guitar. We particularly enjoyed "I Will Give My Love an Apple" and "Sailor Boy". Folk songs endure because they have melody!
As encore we heard an old German Christmas carol "Maria durch ein Dornwald ging" which dates arguably from the 16th c. and is undeniably lovely even in the modern arrangement we heard on the theorbo.
We thought long and hard about the music we heard last night. The oldest endured for six centuries. How long will the music composed in the 21st c. endure? Just sayin'!
(c) meche kroop
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