Friday, March 10, 2017

"Going to Heaven!" at Spivey Hall on Saturday

Anyone who loves great singing wants to be in the good company of mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton, two excellent English musicians making their Spivey Hall debuts tomorrow night (Saturday, March 11) at 7:30 PM.

This afternoon I spent the best minutes of my day listening to them rehearse on stage in preparation for their recital program. Aaron Copland's song, "Going to Heaven!" from his Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson, mercurial and melismatic, lingers in my head. And the expansive deep-bass sonority from the piano that closed another of these songs, "I've heard an organ talk sometimes," was something I physically felt as much as I heard. (Superb acoustics are the gift that keep on giving.)

It's a privilege to witness such gratifying music-making. Their program is a diverse one. It opens with songs by German Romantic composer, Robert Schumann, inspired by poet Adelbert von Chamisso, that explore the rising joys of a young woman as she falls in love, marries, and has a child -- then her utter despair when her husband dies. 

The program's first half closes with songs by Gustav Mahler set to poems by Friedrich Rückert, including a song extremely close to my heart, and among my ideals of deeply lyric, soulful, ethereal beauty, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I am lost to the world").  This is "Desert Island" music for me. Hearing it sung live can be a life-changing experience.

After intermission, a definite change of mood emerges through songs by Francis Poulenc set to five poems by Guillaume Apollinaire, Banalités, which by coincidence includes another of my favorite songs, "Hôtel" -- a delicious distillation of languorous idleness, highly evocative in nature, which concludes with a sigh: "I do not wish to work, I wish to smoke." Gorgeous. (Shout-out to my friend Sue D. in Florida -- I once again vow that I will, someday, make a video of this.)

Then six of the Emily Dickinson songs, including "The Chariot" ("Because I could not stop for death...he kindly stopped for me...), masterfully set by Copland. And then -- a entertaining finale, A History of the Thé Dansant.  You may recall the film, Four Weddings and a Funeral with Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell, among others; the composer of its soundtrack is Richard Rodney Bennett (1936-2012); his sister, Meg Peacock, wrote three poems similar in style those of Edith Sitwell, that evoke the spirit of the 1920s French Riviera. (Think also Downton Abbey, Season 4, when Anna chaperones Lady Rose to a the dasant in a somewhat happy drinking establishment, in which a jealous fight among the local boys seeking to dance with Rose ensues, and they escape just before the police arrive.)  The poems  -- "Foxtrot," "Slow Foxtrot" and "Tango" -- are clever, witty flights of free-association.  I expect Sarah Connolly with have great fun with them -- as will we.

And I suspect there will be encores, too. Thus MUCH to enjoy. Ms. Connolly is in marvelous voice -- her singing is finely nuanced, imbued with meaning both in sound and word, and richly expressive -- and she has a expert partner in Mr. Middleton at the piano, a highly sought-after collaborator by the world's leading singers. 

Accolades abound for both artists. Good seats are still available.  Don't hesitate! Don't miss another "Spivey moment"! DO prepare to be enchanted.

Bonus: Clayton State University music professor and tenor Dr. Kurt-Alexander gives a pre-concert talk at 6:30 PM, free to ticket holders. His insights invariably enhance my listening experience, as I expect they will yours.

COME...and you shall be rewarded. 


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