At First Presbyterian Church, Monterey, on a lovely springy afternoon, John Koza directed his singers in an interesting combination – Brits & Brahms – that really worked. Bookending the program with Brahms Vier Quartette to open and Zigeunerlieder to close, several of the usual suspect British composers and one interloper Hungarian filled out the program. Pauline Troia made the Brahms sound as if it was made for her fingers. This was a true collaboration between singers and the role of the piano was not to be lightly dismissed as mere accompaniment. The opening arpeggios of O schöne Nacht set the soothing “ahhh” feeling of the lovely night. There is something so soothing about well-done Brahms – vocal comfort food that drifts over you with the delicious images.
The first of the “Brits” was Gustav Holst’ “My Sweetheart’s Like Venus.” The deceptively lovely and gentle description leads the listener to the sweetheart pined for, but not necessarily returning the ardor. Arthur Sullivan’s setting of Henry Chorley’s “The Long Day Closes” went beyond the mirth one might think of in hearing the Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan with the poignant description that could serve to describe the Monterey coastline at evening. The joy of music and the joy of newfound love in “My Spirit Sang All Day” resounded throughout Gerald Finzi’s music. Continuing the Brit theme was the luscious “The Blue Bird” of Mary Coleridge poetry as only Charles Villiers Stanford could set it. Anyone not seeing the exquisite image of “…blue in blue” with the bird, sky, and lake caught in a moment must have no imagination. Rachel Lowery’s solo provided the floating ethereal single note over chorus giving lovely a new name. Christina Rosetti texts are favored by many choral composers not the least of whom is Ralph Vaughan Williams and his setting of “Rest.” Closing the first half was the wonderfully descriptive Ziguenerleben (Gypsy Life) by Robert Schumann. Seeing the night revels, firelight, food, drink, wild dancing, of the traveling band truly came alive for the listener.
More Gypsies opened the second half with the Túrót eszik a cigány by the Hungarian interloper Zoltan Kodaly. His Gypsies fit in perfectly with the Brahms and Schumann. What’s not to love about cheese eating and more merry making?! Brahms magnificent Zigeunerlieder filled this second half with more Gypsy Songs. As Koza pointed out, these songs were after dinner entertainment usually as solos or duets. Each is about some facet of love in all its dimensions. Again this is quite an undertaking and only works with a pianist of the caliber of Pauline Troia. As a pianist and accompanist, I know first hand the pitfalls of this score and again seemingly made for Troia’s touch.
Warum doch erschallen Himmelwarts die Lieder? “Why then do songs resonate ever up towards heaven?” It is because John Koza and the dedicated singers of Camerata continue to aspire to those lofty heights. These choral gems in lesser choruses would be humdrum. It takes a lot to continue to find nuances not heard before. And, the extra addition to this program was the inclusion of the six young women of the “Camerata Futures.” This concert set welcomed auditioned high school students and gave them the opportunity to rehearse and perform great works alongside the adult members of the chorus. With choral music struggling to continue at most public schools, there is very little opportunity for interested music students to perform such artistic works. Please continue to support the arts in public schools.
Do mark your calendars for the annual Arts in Harmony spring gala, Friday, May 8 preview concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Salinas, and Sunday May 10 Gala, Auction and Concert at Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley.