James Marquis - Columnist - (mug) photo taken 10-28-05 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On Sunday afternoon, Feb. 27, Albany State University lent us two of its several music artists to perform a splendid song program from the German Baroque and Italian classical periods. Tenor Leroy Bynum and pianist/harpsichordist Marcia Mitchell Hood were assisted by violinist Linda Williamson, oboist Susan Brashier, flautist Elizabeth Goode and cellist Zlatina Staykova of the Albany Symphony Orchestra. The venue was the Albany Museum of Art's auditorium, a more intimate setting than all the others available 'round here.
The program began with J.S. Bach's cantata for solo voice. This one was No. 189 Meine Seele Ruehmt und Preist ("my soul magnifies and praises") ... God's grace and rich goodness). Its poetic structure is of 3 arias interrupted by 2 Recitatives (recitations). Bach wrote many of these as part of his duties as music minister at Leipzig's Tomaskirche. Musicologists have discovered a good deal of reuse of material which is reasonable since he was a busy guy with all the work he had to do, parallel with other creative work he was determined to do.
The program continued with a second solo cantata in the French idiom: L'Impatience by Jean Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764). This one is a secular departure from the religious one going before. It speaks of love, desire, pleasure, nature, etc. It has a lighter, yet serious air that speaks of filial warmth, aviarian playfulness and carelessness. The desire here is to possess a lovely human goddess rather than the Divine.
The singer continues this mood, settling now into Italian opera, sampling the expression that came to be known as Bel Canto (Beautiful Song). Per pieta', bell' idol mio "(for pity's sake, my beautiful idol...)" and Bella Nice, che d'amore "(Beautiful Nice, who arouses the trembling desire of love -- Ah!...)" by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), two arias from the imagination of Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848): "Una furtive Lagrima" (one lonely tear) from his opera L'elisir d'amore. From his opera La Fille du Regiment:" Ah! mes amis - pour mon ame" (Ah! My friends, what a day of celebration! -- what a destiny for my soul!...happy day!...[alas] a soldier and husband!). Here the character Tonio is rejoicing over his dual same day good fortune of becoming a soldier and husband to the beautiful Marie. Before La Fille... Bynum made an abrupt, yet subtle change in operatic style from Bel Canto to dramatic (sometimes referred to as Verissimo or real life expression) when he chose Giuseppi Verdi's (1831-1901) humorous description of The Chimney Sweep -- Lo spazzacamino. Following a loud, surprising hoot with cupped hands over mouth to announce his appearance which is "horrid and black" sullying everyone who come near him, He is a happy lout who considers no one his enemy; who rises early to save from fire anyone who for just a small fee would care to use his service.
Bynum follows this with another change in mood. Verdi's Il tramonto (Sunset) is pure poetry, with Bel Canto as a kind of trailer ... "I love that hour of day when the fading sun seeks the horizon, and over the waves of a tranquil sea I watch the last light wane. In that hour my heat recalls a time of greater happiness than now; in that hour so sweet and melancholy, I turn my yearning, dear lady, to you." No program claiming to exploit Bel Canto singing would be complete without an offering or two of the prodigious effort of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868); so we heard three of his many creations.
All six of these musicians, lead by Bynum and Hood, gave a program filled with mastery, musicianship and an uncommon sense of purpose and dedication. We are so blest to have them among us.
James Marquis is a composer and emeritus professor of music at Albany State University.