Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Concert Review
Music Review: Choral Artists explore musical ‘Adversity’
by Gayle Williams, Correspondent
October 19, 2020
Choral Artists of Sarasota debuted its season of streaming performances with the release of the insightful “Out of Adversity: Embracing Our Differences” Sunday afternoon. It remains available online through Nov. 18.
The concert, featuring six singers and three instrumentalists, was an engaging first foray into a new format of prerecorded performances with artistic director Joseph Holt’s commentary. Voluminous program notes available online also guided our attention to the lives of LGBTQ composers through the ages representing diversity in multiple ways. Tellingly, Holt posed the question for us to answer ourselves, “Does it really matter to know about the private life of these composers? Does it inform our impression of their music?”
The duo of soprano Jenny Kim-Godfrey and mezzo Robyn Rocklein, accompanied by Holt on piano, sang crisply together in George Frederic Handel’s aria “Quel fior che all’alba” (That flower that laughs at daybreak.) They later offered “Passion Spent” from Duets, Op. 46 by Tchaikovsky, marked by darker emotional fervor and thick texture operatic in scale and orchestral in depth.
Ganymed, a lied by Franz Schubert, cleared the air with the rich timbre of baritone Mark Wagstrom. Both musicians and composer amplified the mythical Greek homo-erotic text by the great German literary giant Goethe with a poetic touch. Later, Wagstrom handled the haunting tune “Heart We Will Forget Him,” from Aaron Copland’s song cycle “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson,” with similar assurance.
The suave tenor Mark Lubas, seated in a lounge chair with drink and cigar in hand, sang seductively in “Fumée,” a French-style art song by the Venezuelan-born Reynaldo Hahn. The text by Jean Moréas melted in singer’s mouth and hinted at lust made all the more ephemeral by sinuous melodic lines from both vocalist and pianist Holt.
American popular song of the 19th century does not often get its due as true art. Move over Stephen Foster, make way for Anita Owen, composer of “Any Place is Heaven When You’re with the Girl You Love” and “Sweet Bunch of Daisies” (1894 hit). Soprano Michaela Ristaino, with Holt on piano, delivered these infinitely tuneful and delightful gems with beguiling grace.
Mezzo-soprano Amy Jo Connours has that deep earthy voice that makes the bluesy “Sugar in the Cane” from Paul Bowles’ Blue Mountain Ballads ring true. With pianist Michael Stewart, she brought spice to the text of Tennessee Williams, a long-time friend of the composer.
Two instrumental selections for flute and piano punctuated the series of songs. Holt accompanied flutist Betsy Hudson Traba in both Poulenc’s “Cantilena: Assez lent” from his Sonata for Flute and Piano, and Samuel Barber’s “Canzone (Elegy).” Hudson Traba’s deep sonority and smooth long phrases were key to creating the moods of both soulful works.
However, among the lessons everyone will learn in these new formats is how to effectively mike and record varying instruments maintaining a more natural balance and sound. The soprano voice and flute did not fare as well in this recording as lower range voices, sometimes sounding strident or tinny.
With the full vocal quartet and piano accompaniment as we heard in “These Things Shall Be” by Charles T. Griffes, “Prayer of St. Francis” by Mari Ésabel Valverde, and “One Voice” by Barry Manilow, the sound was rich and balanced.
Ristaino, Connours, Lubas and Wagstrom with pianist Stewart, spaced apart on the stage blended well whether in the martial pomp of the Griffes “hymn” or the more nuanced choral texture of Valverde’s Prayer. Again giving pop music its due, Manilow’s “One Voice” resonated both musically and thematically with the soaring lyric “All it takes is One Voice shout it out and let it ring … and everyone will sing!”
Out of Adversity: Embracing Our Differences
Choral Artists of Sarasota. Reviewed Oct. 18. Joseph Holt, artistic director, narrator and pianist. A recording of the performance will be available for streaming through Nov. 18. 941-387-4900; choralartistssarasota.org