in: Reviews

March 7, 2011

Love’s Many Manifestations from Spectrum Singers

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If you missed Valentines Day, the place to be on Saturday evening, March 5  was at First Church Congregational, with The Spectrum Singers. Who can resist hearing about love in its many manifestations when the composers include Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann Beethoven, and Barber?

Luckily, you didn’t have to be a romantic to enjoy this program. The Spectrum Singers and their excellent music director John Ehrlich chose a fun and unpredictable program — some twenty-five composers whose songs featured not only the romantic charms of love, but love’s nastier sides ? its torments, obsession, jealousy, boredom.

Ehrlich’s clever program notes included a heart with arrows pointing towards seven of love’s manifestations — Love in the Night, in Nature, its Flirtations, Acts of Love, Love’s Delights, Love’s Torments, and finally Love’s Beauty, with the composers covered by these categories. The Spectrum Singers’ choice of repertoire included a whopping eight songs in Love’s Torments. Those in the audience who had not found Perfect Love must have appreciated this section.

Much of the music in this ingeniously crafted program was, at least to me, unfamiliar, and almost all of it I would love to hear again. The program opened with songs about night, first with the full thirty-five voice chorus in O Schöne Nacht by Brahms, followed by duets in Abendlied (1828) by Mendelssohn, the silent sorrow of In der Nacht (1849) by Schumann, and a lovely Nocturne for soprano by Barber (“Underneath your moving hands All my aching flows away.”)

The ever clever Cole Porter and George Gershwin (lyrics by Ira Gershwin), were represented by Gershwin’s Blah, Blah, Blah for soprano and Porter’s beautifully sung In the Still of the Night where the chorus did itself proud: beautiful dynamics, haunting harmonies, singing that raised goose-bumps. It was certainly one of the high points of an evening brimming with beauty. One Perfect Rose by Paul Sjolund, set to the inimitable Dorothy Parker’s poem, had some of the evening’s best lines: “One Perfect Rose. Why is it no one ever sent me yet One Perfect limousine, do you suppose? Ah no, It’s always just my luck to get One Perfect Rose.”

Mozart’s canon for women’s voices Caro bell’ idol mio was followed by, for this reviewer, the highlight of the soloists’ part of the evening. Two Chinese Folk Songs (in the program book in both Chinese and English), The Swallow and The Little Stream Flows On were given stunning performances, in Chinese, by soprano Ree-Van Wang. Her last lines, “and the wind blows up the hill, blows up the hill, (my dear, my dear, my dear,) do you hear me calling you? Ah, my dear!” contained enough quiet drama and possible heartbreak for a whole evening. Van Wang’s singing was just perfect for these songs; she was a unforgettable marvel.

There seemed almost as many permutations of singers as there were songs. Solos, duos, trios, quartets, and the whole chorus alternated, but everything (stage moving) proceeded smoothly. I was struck more than once by how superb the men in the chorus were, and by how excellent James R. Barkovic, the chorus’s pianist is. The a capella Come to Me by Gustav Holst, poetry by Christina Rosetti, was seductively restful (“Come to me in the silence of the night, Come in the speaking silence of a dream”), so utterly calm I could sense the audience’s collective blood pressure dropping. Two lovely pieces set to Thomas Campion’s famous verses by Virgil Thomson followed: There is a Garden in Her Face and Rose Cheek’d Laura, Come. It’s always a treat to hear these songs by Thomson, from his set to four Campion poems.

There were so many truly lovely moments — with poetry was usually as good as the music — throughout this concert. Three Shakespeare texts were set by, among others, by Sir George Shearing (who died on Valentine’s Day). Five well-known Elizabethan madrigals ended the program, a perfect finish.

Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.

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