On Friday the Williams Chamber Players delighted a near full house of people in Brooks-Rogers recital hall to an evening of narrative song. They performed six pieces which represented five centuries worth of classical music and were often taken from operas. This structure gave almost every piece a story to tell in the language of music.
The first piece was Henry Purcell’s “Fairest Isle,” from the semi-opera King Arthur. Beginning slow and sweet to evoke country life, Keith Kibler, artist associate in voice, then joined the cello and harpsichord with his deep operatic baritone. While his words were at times difficult to understand, the sense that a fairy-tale was being told was difficult to deny – it was easy to get lost in the beauty of the of the instruments as they mingled with Kibler’s voice to tell this story of Camelot.
“Sweeter Than Roses,” the second piece of the night, was also composed by Purcell and again featured music instructor Edwin Lawrence on the harpsichord and Nathaniel Parke on the cello. The lead vocalist in “Sweeter Than Roses” was artist associate in voice Kerry Ryer-Parke, whose blissful soprano voice carried the story of a woman intoxicated by a single kiss. Purcell is known for successfully capturing the essence of insanity in music, and this song in particular demonstrated the “jarring contrasts of mood, both musically and textually,” as described in the program notes by Katie Yosua ’10. The voice line began in the realm of the melancholy before gradually growing more dynamic and energetic. The trilling, almost bouncy background music provided by the harpsichord and cello complimented Ryer-Parke’s staccato soprano line; this combination allowed her to emphasize the composer’s attentiveness to the text in relation to the music. The song was received enthusiastically, as the auditorium was left buzzing upon its finish.
As the concert moved on to the next composer, John Blow, the vocal duet between Kibler and Ryer-Parke took the stage for “The Death of Adonis,” the second to last scene in the opera Venus and Adonis. The piece details the tragic love story between the goddess Venus and the hunter Adonis who, in this particular scene, dies in her arms as they sing together. Kibler entered the song with booming force as Adonis and sang to Ryer-Parke as Venus. While the instrumentals in this piece were minimal, the effect of the chemistry between the two singers was magical. We watched as the chemistry between the two lovers graduated from soft, intimate moments to broader, more sweeping ones. The powerful back-and-forth dynamic between the two vocalists made the tragic myth of love and loss come alive before those watching.
Next, “Pur ti miro, pur ti godo,” from the opera Il Coronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi, was performed in its original Italian, but still ably conveyed the historical story of the Roman emperor Nerone (Nero) and his mistress Poppea. Although the pair demonstrated questionable morality, the opera allows them this love duet as the finale of the show. Ryer-Parke began with a slow dramatic melody as she walked around Kibler lovingly. The song then turned to a very quick interchange between the soprano and baritone as if the two lovers were getting more and more excited about their love as the story went on. While the Italian was a language barrier, the many layers of emotion displayed by the two vocalists were beautiful, heartfelt and not hard to understand.
The last song before the intermission was “String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 64, No. 6” written by Josef Haydn. Composed of four movements, Yosua described the piece as “an exemplary model … for the complex genre of the classical string quartet.” Each movement develops differently. The first established the major themes of the piece, beginning playfully and gradually becoming something more suspenseful. The second and third highlighted a very high violin part by artist associate Joana Genova and visiting artist-in-residence Joel Pitchon who were joined by artist associate Scott Woolweaver on the viola and Ronald Feldman, artist-in-residence and lecturer in music, on the cello. The final movement was extremely dramatic and fast-paced, ending the piece as a whole in an interesting contrast.
After a short break came Gabriel Faure’s “Piano quartet in C minor, Op. 15” featuring Pitchon on violin, Woolweaver on viola, Parke on cello and artist-in-residence Doris Stevenson on the piano. Also comprised of four movements, this piece presented the most modern section of the performance. The first movement showcased a deep, rich sound so powerful that Pitchon was physically jumping from his seat as he performed on the violin. Unlike in the second movement where it became playful, the piano at this point was dark and serious in the background. With their complex and more modern harmonies, the texture of sounds in the final two movements was beautiful and different from the other pieces of the show; this song was a perfect finale to a fantastic night of instrumental and vocal storytelling.
Additional reporting by Austin Davis, managing editor.