American Vocal Chamber Quartet at Baldwin-Wallace (September 18)
By J.D. Goddard
On Sunday, September 18 at 6:00 p.m., the American Chamber Vocal Quartet blended forces in various combinations and performed for a small but appreciative audience at Gamble Auditorium on the Baldwin-Wallace campus in Berea. The ensemble includes soprano Jessica McCormack (assistant professor at Wittenburg University), mezzo-soprano Rebecca Folsom (voice faculty at the Boston Conservatory), tenor JR Fralick, (left, professor of voice at Baldwin-Wallace), and baritone Tod Fitzpatrick (founder and general director of the annual Big Bear Lake Song Festival in Southern California). William Shaffer was pianist.
The quartet opened with Three Rossetti Songs by American composer Ian Coleman (b. 1965), a rather pensive and provoking work that allowed the singers to warm up for the remainder of the evening’s program. Song was short, sweet and to the point while challenging to the ear. Earth Grown Cold was a wonderfully eerie piece with the offstage soprano interjecting an “ah” vocalization which added a very moving and ethereal effect to the trio on stage. For the Least of All Saints showcased the talents of the quartet with its rather experimental effects demanding precision and nuance.
Ms. McCormack took center stage for Folk Songs of Eastern Canada arranged by Canadian composer Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984). The set includes J’ai Cueilli la belle Rose, She’s Like the Swallow, I’ll Give My Love an Apple and Ah! Si mon Moine volait danser! Ms. McCormack’s voice was beautifully placed, never pushed and always under control. Her exceptional pianissimos, occasional use of straight tone and colorations were exceptional and heightened the simplicity of these wonderful folk melodies. Her pronunciation was impeccable. Shaffer delivered a polished accompaniment throughout.
Benjamin Britten’s setting of Abraham and Isaac (Canticle II) was written for his close friend and countertenor Peter Pears. Ms. Folsom (Isaac), Mr. Fralick (Abraham) and Mr. Shaffer traversed this difficult work with deeply affecting expressionism and boldness. The intricacies of the Canticle’s disjunctive and terse musical structure made for an intense and demanding performance. Its strong emotions and dialogue received an impressive and heartfelt performance.
Most impressive on the program was Mr. Fitzpatrick’s performance of three songs arranged by American composer Celius Dougherty (1902-1986). Mr. Fitzpatrick possesses an exceptionally full throated, focused, and well placed vocal instrument. His interpretations of O Waly, Waly, Blow, Ye Winds, and Shenandoah were fanciful, adroit and clever. His pronunciation was precise and he painted a wonderful picture of the content of each song, easily transitioning between pianissimos and fortes. He completely engaged the audience with his sure stage presence and facial expression.
The full quartet returned to the stage with flutist Bradley Paller to perform Jennifer Conner’s Welcome, Cool Summer Evening, a suite of five short, simple and gentle songs (Life, Morning, Myths, Welcome and Well of Life). The 1-2 minute pieces explore different tone colors and combinations of voices, often in a playful way, without making a strong melodic impression. The quartet sang the songs with assured expertise.
The last piece was well worth waiting for. Jules Massenet’s Chansons des Bois d’Amaranthe (1900) was beauty in its simplest form, full of melodies, florid lines and lush harmonies. O bon printemps, for soprano, alto and tenor was sung with caressing care. A highlight of the concert, Oiseau des bois, scored for soprano and mezzo, showed Massenet in his full, melodic glory. Cheres fleurs involved the full quartet and ended with an exquisite pianissimo. In O ruisseau, soprano, alto and tenor echoed each other in wonderful melodic playfulness. Chantez brought the quartet full circle and allowed each member to shine in the brilliance of their individual voices.
This was an evening of rare artistic repartee among four superbly trained professional singers who uniformly intertwined their exceptional vocal talents and produced an impressive and artistic blending of vocal purity and subtle nuance.
Published on clevelandclassical.com September 13, 2011
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