in: Reviews

November 1, 2017

Songeaters Do Seasonscape

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Thea Lobo (file photo)

Songeaters (Thea Lobo, mezzo-soprano; and Eunmi Ko, piano) offered art songs for Lifetime Learning last Thursday at Temple Shalom in Newton. “Seasonscape” featured sets devoted to the four seasons, including four commissioned works.

Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “Sommer” opened “Summer” with three mysterious chords in the piano followed by declamatory singing. The performers brought off the drama inherent in the words, reaching a climax followed by lush solemnity as the text speaks of new desires and new sorrows. “Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen” by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel disclosed a song of soaring vocal lines with the piano in a secondary role. The text describes “whispering flowers” in subdued and restrained melody. “Blanc sont les jours d’ete” by Darius Milhaud theatrically evoked the fleeting days of summer. Thea Lobo reveled her role while Eunmi Ko shaped broken chords with melodic interest and harmonic color. The short second verse gave the “Blanc” a jazzy feel. Contrasting the Milhaud, “Laue Sommernacht” by Alma Mahler, was a lyrical, Romantic work. The group ended with “Sensation” by Seunghee Lee, one of the pieces commissioned for this project.  The piano and singer traded simple motifs, recalling the innocence of man’s relationship to nature.

In the “Autumn” group, Juliana Hall set a poem by Carl Sandburg as “Theme in Yellow. At the outset, the piano projected a simple, repeating motif, as the vocal line spun around it. Although heavy chords introduced “jack o’lantern with terrible teeth,” the overall effect was almost secretive.  “September” by Charles Ives has a chaotic feel, suited to the apparently disorganized and overflowing text which it accompanies. “Night”, commissioned for Seasonscape, Doug Balliett spare “Night” worked with the rhythm of the text; arpeggios accompanied a vocal line where the pitches were more spoken than sung. 

Eunmi Ko (file photo)

The artists paid homage to Schubert by including “Mut” from his Winterreise.  In the commission for “Winter,” Steven Long set three poems by Emily Dickinson in somber tones, while that of Harold Hart Crane had a light-hearted feel. The “Spring” cluster opened with Brahms and closed with a commission from John Liberatore. “Five Vignettes of Springto text by William Corbett began with programmatic treatment of the first two verses. In the final vignette the soprano holds sustained pitches of D and E that are ornamented with fleeting reaches for higher pitches.  At the same time ringing tones of undefined pitch are created as the pianist combs over the strings with a metal tube while playing the note at the keyboard.

The son of a wealth Guadeloupe planter and his African slave, Joseph Bologne (1745-1799), whose work was included in the “Spring” cycle, was not very lucky. His careers in music and almost everything else was thwarted throughout his entire life. His charming “Le printemps sur la nature” from 1770 was the only example of bel canto we heard.

Seasonscape took listeners through disparate styles of music and poetry in four different languages. Songeaters also strives to rescue marginalized composers. Both artists seemed at ease with the challenges. We look forward to future efforts from them.

Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.

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