A Concert Celebrating the Publication of Barrett Cobb’s book, Walk, Shepherdess Walk, in Review

A Concert Celebrating the Publication of Barrett Cobb’s book, Walk, Shepherdess Walk, in Review

Barrett Cobb, flute/mezzo-soprano; Chris Fecteau, piano;

Teresa Diaz, flute; Rae Ramsay and Ruth Ann Cunningham, sopranos;

Elizabeth Thorne, Mezzo-soprano; Kate Goddard, violin; James Diaz, narrator

Special guest: Harry Saltzman

Church of the Good Shepherd, New York, NY

October 29, 2017

 

In celebration of the recent release of her sing-along book, Walk Shepherdess Walk, the author/illustrator Barrett Cobb, in her other roles as singer, flutist, and composer, gave a delightful program this Sunday based on pastoral themes. The above sentence warrants a long pause: singer, flutist, composer, author, and illustrator/painter! One often calls versatile artists “triple-threats” but Barrett Cobb is really a quintuple threat and more. For full disclosure, I had encountered some of her writing in her work for New York Concert Review, but her other gifts, as well as her winning presence in person, are new to me.

 

The concert was subtitled “A Program of Mostly Sheepish Music.” Though musical themes of lambs and shepherds might to the untutored seem rather limiting, the program’s reach was actually quite broad, touching on profound and beautiful themes that have recurred in music for centuries. Along with the likeliest choices (naturally several Agnus DeiLamb of God – settings), there was related music of pan pipes, satyrs, and walking woven into the program in organic ways, including Claude Debussy’s exotic Syrinx and the show tune You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel (Richard Rodgers), without ever straying too far afield.

 

The concert opened with Barrett Cobb singing Antonín Dvořák’s Songs My Mother Taught Me, in homage to her own mother, who taught her the book’s title song Walk, Shepherdess, Walk, by Eleanor Farjeon. Ms. Cobb sang the Dvořák with true feeling, sure intonation, and a lovely tone that projected well in the highly reverberant church. It was a deeply touching tribute. Sensitive accompaniment for the entire program (except the unaccompanied Debussy and Scull selections) was provided by pianist Chris Fecteau.

 

Following the Dvořák came the song Walk, Shepherdess, Walk, for which Ms. Cobb played the flute in her own charming arrangement, along with soprano Ruth Ann Cunningham and Mr. Fecteau. Again, it was beautifully done. It was a novel experience to hear a performer move so fluently from singing to playing the flute on the same recital, both at such a remarkable level. Incidentally, I listened to Ms. Cobb’s recording that accompanies her book (as the title song can be downloaded at www.walkshepherdesswalk.com), and it is winsome, but it actually does not do justice to her voice as we heard it live on Sunday – one usually finds the reverse to be true!

 

After this introductory set of songs came a grouping entitled “Sheep” containing some of the world’s most famous pastorally inspired music. Naturally a program about lambs and shepherds would be unthinkable without J. S. Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze (from Cantata BWV 208), and so this aria followed with the three performers we had just heard, joined by Teresa Diaz on second flute. It was a beautifully balanced rendition of a beloved classic. Equally appropriate was He Shall Feed His Flock, from Handel’s Messiah, and Ms. Cobb and Mr. Fecteau handled it well. The spiritual, Listen to de Lambs, closed the set in a soulful way.

 

 Walk Shepherdess Walk, the author/illustrator, singer, flutist, and composer

Barrett Cobb

 

The program’s next section, containing just one piece, was entitled “A Shepherdess” and cast the shepherdess as object of the unrequited love through Mozart’s setting of Goethe’s poem, Das Veilchen (The Violet). Ms. Cobb found just the right balance of mood between the song’s bucolic innocence and the pain of the trampled violet’s story, giving a light touch to the disturbingly facile resolution of Mozart’s final added line.

 

Moving to music about lambs in a more religious context (a section entitled “Lambs of God”) we heard the Agnus Dei from Bach’s Mass in B minor, followed by Barrett Cobb’s own Agnus Dei, and the Agnus Dei from Petite Messe Solemnelle by Rossini. It was quite interesting to hear three settings of the Agnus Dei in a row. Bach’s is famously heart-rending and was sensitively done by Ms. Cobb with the addition of Kate Goddard on violin. Ms. Cobb’s own composition followed it well stylistically, without any attempt to overturn tradition or to be original for originality’s sake. The Rossini brought the first half to a grand close, followed by a brief intermission.

 

Along with the text of the song Walk, Shepherdess, Walk, illustrated line by line with enchanting pastoral watercolor images in Ms. Cobb’s book, the book also contains her own brief story entitled “A Lamb’s Tale.” Present to read this tale was narrator James Diaz, a welcome new voice. To set the stage was Schumann’s tender ode to delicate innocence, Du Bist Wie Eine Blume (You are Like a Flower), sung by Ms. Cobb, and the reading was followed by another of Ms. Cobb’s own compositions, The Lamb’s Lament, for alto flute and piano. The piece reminded one faintly of Poulenc or Ibert, though with its own distinctly individual and melancholic voice. It was played hauntingly by Ms. Cobb, with gentle support from Mr. Fecteau, as ever.

 

The section of the program entitled “Pan’s Lament” featured Debussy’s Syrinx, a musical depiction of the mythological origin of pan pipes. Here, Ms. Cobb as flutist was at her finest, with Debussy’s sinuous lines shaded perfectly.

 

On a nostalgic note, the program continued under the heading “Lost Lambs” with the Whiffenpoof Song by Guy H. Scull (ending with Baa-ing). It brought a collegial (and collegiate) touch and was given a spirited performance by the quartet of Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Cobb, joined by soprano Rae Ramsey and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Thorne. The classic Gershwin tune Someone to Watch Over Me, sung by Ms. Cobb, closed the grouping with sentimental grace.

 

The final selections under the heading “Walking Songs” began with one of my personal favorites, Handel’s Where’er You Walk (from Semele), inadvertently listed as being by Purcell (who was also inadvertently listed as having lived from 1659-75, a mere sixteen years). It is not my intent to (ahem) lambaste anyone or in any way, er, ram these corrections through, but given this program’s potential for future performances, these typos should be fixed. No one wants to “pull the wool over anyone’s eyes” about composers’ lives!

 

An unexpected delight was the unannounced appearance next by Ms. Cobb’s husband, Harry Saltzman, singing Walkin’ My Baby Back Home, by Fred Ahlert. Complete with baseball cap and vaudevillian gestures, he brought added fun to an already very friendly event, and the audience loved it. Ms. Cobb followed with her finale, a powerful rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone (from Carousel, by Richard Rodgers). What a pair!

 

The sizable and enthusiastic audience gave a standing ovation and for an encore was invited to sing along in Walk, Shepherdess, Walk, before a reception that included (you guessed it!) “Goats do Roam” wine. Bravo to the many people involved in this memorable afternoon, at least five of whom were Barrett Cobb!

 


CD in Review: Patrick Gallois, flute; Maria Prinz, piano

CD Review: Patrick Gallois, flute; Maria Prinz, piano
Mozart Violin Sonatas K.376, K.377, K378, K 570 arranged for flute and Piano by Patrick Gallois
Naxos 8.573033; Playing time 74:33 ; Recorded at Casinio Baumgarten, Vienna, Austria June 4-6, 2012
Producer, Engineer and Editor: Jens Jamin
 
Patrick Gallois, flutist  and Maria Prinz, pianist

Patrick Gallois, flutist and Maria Prinz, pianist

The Baroque period is rich in solo flute music.  The two greats, Bach and Handel, each wrote several sonatas, and many of the lesser geniuses contributed as well.  In the Romantic period, Schubert favored the instrument with a set of virtuoso variations and the French wrote reams of tuneful and often showy pieces.  In the twentieth century many of the most prominent composers, among them Prokofiev, Bartok, Poulenc, Hindemith, Piston, and Ibert wrote solo flute music.  And today’s composers love the flute.

The Classical period is a different story.  Unless the flutist has an orchestra at her (or his) disposal to play a Mozart concerto, she will find almost nothing.  Enter Patrick Gallois. Mr. Gallois, a prominent French flutist and conductor, has skillfully transcribed four Mozart violin sonatas, K.376, K.377, K. 378, and K. 570, for the flute.  At the age of eight, Mozart wrote sonatas that could be played by either flute or violin, as was common practice in the Baroque era.  This is the precedent for Mr. Gallois’ adaptations.

The lovely Sonata K.570 has a different history from the other three works.  In 1789, Mozart entered this work into his list of compositions as a solo piano sonata. In 1796 It was published posthumously by Artaria as a sonata for piano with violin accompaniment. Subsequent scholarship has concluded that this was not Mozart’s intent, although the arranger is not known.

For the most part, the flute is well suited to these genial, accessible compositions.  A few changes have to be made.  As the violin’s range goes a third or a fourth below that of the flute (depending on the flute,) there are some octave transpositions. The flute is more powerful in its high register than when playing lower notes. The notes in the first octave are just not very loud.  This is not the case with the violin, and for this reason it often behooves the flute to play in a higher octave in order to balance the piano.  Where the violin plays double stops, the flute plays arpeggios.  These changes do not impinge on the musical effectiveness of the pieces.

Unlike most flute sonatas these pieces do not give both instruments equal importance; the piano is the more important member of the duo.  Indeed, the sonatas are referred to in some editions as piano sonatas with violin accompaniment. Maria Prinz is a fine pianist who plays with style and verve, always vital but never overpowering her partner. Mr. Gallois has a lovely sound, beguiling phrasing and especially clean articulation. No doubt many flutists and fans of flute music will find great pleasure in this new addition to the repertoire.


Concert for Peace – Celebrating the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. (DCINY)

Concert for Peace – Celebrating the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Distinguished Concerts International New York in Review (DCINY)
Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
January 17, 2011

Distinguished Concerts International New York, or DCINY, as the group calls itself, rounds up choruses from around the world, brings them to New York and presents them in concerts mostly composed of recently written but highly accessible music.  The concert on January 17 was dedicated entirely to the music of DCNY’s composer-in-residence, Karl Jenkins. Originally from Wales, Mr. Jenkins is, according to his website, the most frequently performed living composer in the world. His style is tonal and presents a fusion of classical, ethnic, and popular music.  The music often sounds like the best of movie music; indeed Mr. Jenkins has achieved great success as a composer of both television commercials and film scores. Although his music is sometimes too repetitious for my taste, it is often rousing and at times quite beautiful.

The two works presented on this concert were Mr. Jenkins’ “Gloria” and “Stabat Mater.”  The first piece was a U.S. premiere.  The major part of its text was taken from the Gloria of the Latin Mass.  Interspersed were readings from other religions: the Bhagavad Gita, (Hindu), the Diamond Sutra, (Buddhism), the Tao Te Ching (Taoism), and the Qur’an (Islam). The choruses were the Kings Chorale from Canada, the Laramie County Community College Choir from Wyoming, the Methodist College Chapel Choir from Ireland, the Ottawa University Concert Choir, and the Sno-King Community Chorale from Washington.  Charlotte Daw Paulsen was the mezzo-soprano soloist and DCNY’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Griffith conducted. The orchestra was drawn from local players. The choruses sang with assurance and beauty of tone, although from where I was sitting they were at times not as loud as might have been wished. Ms. Paulsen has a lovely voice but was similarly under-powered.  The exemplary conducting of Jonathan Griffith cannot be faulted.

The second half of the program, almost twice as long as the first half, was a performance of Mr. Jenkins’ “Stabat Mater,” written in 2008.  This work employs ancient instruments and modes from the Middle East alongside the standard Western harmonies and instrumentation. As he did in the first half’s “Gloria,” Mr. Jenkins interpolated six movements in other languages which strikingly contrasted with the Latin of the standard “Stabat Mater” text. One of these movements, “And the Mother did weep” was, for me, the high point of the concert. This lovely, haunting piece for chorus and orchestra was full of surprising and enchanting twists and turns of melody and harmony. I hope I have the chance to hear it again. In other interpolated movements, there is also a part for “ethnic vocals,” performed by Belinda Sykes, who also played the Mey, a Middle Eastern double reed instrument. The choruses for the second half of the program were the Kirk Choir of Pasadena Presbyterian Church, from California, the Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut, the Fairfield University Chamber Singers, the Saddleworth Musical Society from England, the Sine Nomine Singers of North Carolina, the University of Johannesburg Choir from South Africa, and the West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Chorus from New Jersey.  These groups, all well-prepared, were capable of more power than the forces on the first half, although their intonation wavered a bit during the a cappella “Fac ut portem Christi mortem.”  The concert ended with a grand climax, as the choruses from the first half joined in from the balcony. The audience leapt to its feet and there was thunderous applause.


Daniel Seigel, baritone in Review

Daniel Seigel, baritone in Review
Lester Seigel, piano
Weill Recital Hall, New York, NY
November 6, 2010


Daniel Seigel

Daniel Seigel is the 2009 winner of the National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Competition.   His debut concert on November 6 at Weill Recital Hall was made possible by the Charles and Francis Christmann Estate.  (One assumes a connection between the Competition and the Estate.) His rather idiosyncratic program showcased his many gifts and skills and built to a wonderful climax.

Let it be stated at the start: Mr. Seigel is an excellent singer.  Apart from an occasional slight instability, especially on soft notes at the ends of phrases, and a somewhat stiff physical presentation at the beginning of the program, (both due to nerves, no doubt) he displayed mastery of his craft.  The voice is warm and rich with a nice spin, which allows him to glide effortlessly between registers. His diction is excellent in English, French,  German and Italian, and he sings with strong  emotional commitment.  Mr. Seigel was expertly accompanied by his father, Lester Seigel.

The program began with “L’Ultimo ricordo,” by Rossini. Unfortunately no translation of the Italian was provided.  At the end of the program notes, however, we are told that the song is “about a dying man who returns a pressed flower to his wife that he had kept since their wedding when she carried it.” This brings me to a paragraph which should perhaps skipped by those who are interested only in Mr. Seigel.

It never ceases to amaze me that presenting groups spend thousands of dollars and a great deal of time and energy to showcase a performer, and yet make up a printed program which appears amateurish, does not provide the necessary information, and, as in this case, presents information that actually misleads the audience. I must state that which should be obvious: except in rare instances (i.e. a Lieder recital with many individual songs by one or just a few composers), the work to be performed goes on the left, the composer (and his dates) on the right.  A set of songs should be indicated as such with the individual songs listed underneath.  None of this was done.  As a result, the audience didn’t know when to applaud or indeed, at times, what they were hearing. The program notes provided many clues, but the audience should not have to read program notes during the performance.  A performer of Mr. Seigel’s calibre deserves the audience’s full attention. The only other thing to which the audience should give attention to is the sheet of song texts and their translations, which guide one through the song. It is my personal preference that not only the texts of songs in foreign languages, but also those of the songs in English should be provided.  No matter how fine a singer’s diction is, it can be hard to understand even one’s native language when it is sung.  In the case of this program (the musical aspect of which I promise I will return to), none of the twelve English texts was printed, neither of the two Italian texts was printed, all five French texts and their translations were printed, as was the case with the one German song. The worst problem of all was that twice the individual songs of a set were not listed, so one thought that the title of the set was an individual song. The attentive and well-mannered audience members were understandably confused, and some began to applaud at the wrong place, thus no doubt causing themselves a good deal of embarrassment.  With all the shuffling and confusion I, for one, missed out on a good deal of Mr. Seigel’s no doubt fine and carefully considered performance. I would caution performers to proofread their programs, even if making up the printed program is not their “job.”

After warming up on the Rossini, Mr. Seigel presented one Lied: Mahler’s “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt,” a humorous song poking fun at preachers.  It seemed a little odd to me that this was the lone offering of German Lieder, a genre which most cognoscenti believe to be the greatest body of repertoire for voice and piano. Mr. Seigel and his excellent accompanist, however, gave an ingratiating performance.  I would have loved to have heard a little more Mahler, but we now skipped to the twentieth century with Samuel Barber’s cycle “Despite and Still.” Daniel Seigel clearly feels a strong affinity for the repertoire of the middle of the twentieth century and he performed these songs with assurance and intensity.  An abrupt and welcome change of mood came with Mercutio’s scintillating aria “Mab, la reine des mensonges” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.”  Mr. Seigel wowed the audience with his rapid fire, crystal clear French. A stirring rendition of Ives’s masterpiece “General William Booth Enters into Heaven” completed the first half.

The second half began with “Hai gia vinta la causa,” the Count’s famous recitative and aria from the third act of “Le Nozze di Figaro”.  From the comfort he displayed in the role and the conviction he brought to it, one suspects that he has performed it in its entirety.  If he hasn’t already, no doubt he will soon. With his tall stature and elegant good looks he would make a fine Count. Works by two composers from the first half of the twentieth century, Gerald Finzi and Francis Poulenc, followed.  Then we returned to opera, with an impassioned performance of “L’orage s’est calmé” from Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs des perles”.  The concert ended brilliantly with the “Soliloquy” from “Carousel”.  This piece represents a revolutionary moment in the American Musical Theater. It is far longer than the any show tune up until that time and contains elements of recitative and aria interspersed. It is worthy of inclusion in a recital of “serious” music, indeed when performed as well as it was on November  6 it is almost miraculous.  The ecstatic crowd leapt to their feet in a well-deserved ovation.  The rather topical encore was “Brother, can you spare a dime?”


Margaret Cornils, flute

Margaret Cornils, flute
Sharon Jenson, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 26, 2010

A packed Weill Recital Hall greeted flutist Margaret Cornils for this recital, which was sponsored by MidAmerica Productions. The first half was made up of three of the most popular pieces in the flute repertoire: Bach’s B Minor Sonata, Debussy’s Syrinx, and Poulenc’s Sonata. Some of Bach’s flute sonatas were written for flute and basso continuo (a keyboard instrument, whose left hand is doubled by a bass instrument such as a cello, and whose right hand improvises chords stipulated by the composer.) The B Minor Sonata, however, is written for flute and an obbligato (fully written-out) keyboard – without cello. Although cellist Kevin Price blended well with the other fine performers, his part was superfluous.

Due to its quasi-improvisatory character, Syrinx is a different piece for each flutist. Cornils’ rendition was somewhat matter of fact, but nevertheless effective. The Poulenc Sonata was the most satisfying offering on the first half. Her phrasing in the opening of the Cantilena was pure perfection, and the last movement (presto giocoso) displayed an impressive third-octave technique and clear double-tonguing.

The second half of the program was as unknown as the first half was familiar. It opened with Gary Schocker’s Musique Francais, written in 1997. This is a pleasant, skillfully written composition, with several tips of the hat to Poulenc. The third movement is a virtuoso’s tour de force in which Cornils again showed her fine technique. The next piece, Pandean Fable by Clifton Williams, effectively displayed the haunting tone color of the bass flute.

The recital concluded with Paul Agricole Genin’s arrangement of Carnival of Venice. A surprisingly interesting, beautiful and rather lengthy introduction preceded the familiar trite tune. Once the introduction was over, the virtuosic variations which followed exploited all the tricks up the flutist’s sleeve. Cornils was up to the challenge and the audience rewarded her with a standing ovation.

Sharon Jenson was the excellent pianist.


Cornerstone Chorale and Brass

Cornerstone Chorale and Brass
“The Courage to Care”
Created by Bruce Vantine
Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 11, 2009

I’ve never encountered anything quite like “The Courage to Care,” the program presented by Bruce Vantine’s Cornerstone Chorale and Brass.  Part church service, part passion play, part concert, this program assumes a unique form in which Mr. Vantine attempts to carry out his stated mission “to use our time, talents and resources to minister to our brothers and sisters in need.” 

On hand were a brass quintet, a pianist, a percussionist, two narrators, a chorus of twenty one and the conductor-composer-creator, Dr. Bruce Vantine.  The performance ran without intermission and the audience was instructed to withhold applause until the end. The program was divided into five large sections entitled “By your will created,” “Called to serve all people,” “The courage to care,” “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” and “Be not afraid.” We were provided with an eleven page program which contained the words of the narrators and of the choral selections, and I am happy to report that the lights in the audience were sufficiently bright that one could read the program with ease. This was especially helpful during the two hymns, which were audience sing-alongs.  At other times it was hardly necessary, as the diction of the narrators and singers was exemplary.

Their fine diction was not the only way in which the Chorale excelled.  Throughout the program they sang with beautiful sound, excellent intonation, and sincerity of intention. The several solos performed by chorus members were all well executed.  Standing front and center, attractively clad in red, black and white, and singing everything by memory, they were the stars of the show.  Equally skilled, however, was the brass quintet. During one of the most poignant moments of the “God so loved, etc.” section we were treated to a performance of one of music’s most beautiful pieces; the Adagio from Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 (“Pathetique.”)  Here Mr. Vantine’s message seemed to be that during times of greatest emotion, when words fail, music speaks.

This listener would have enjoyed the program more had there been fewer Christological exhortations throughout. To those of us who are not of the Christian faith, a program such as this can seem presumptuous and even distasteful.  However, I was probably the only non-believer in the hall, and I can report that the rest of the audience loved it, as they demonstrated with a standing ovation at the end.