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An Evening of Sacred Music: the Students of Katherin Eberle with Pianist Christine Tithecott

Solo vocal works with keyboard accompaniment have a long and rich history, and in keeping with that theme, Trinity Episcopal Church provides a perfect venue for such an occasion. The hushed creaking of the hardwood floors and pews, the glowing stain glass windows, and the high-reaching ceiling arch all contributed to a historical ambience. The students of Katherin Eberle, the pianist Christine Tithecott and obligato flutists fittingly join the throng of musicians which represent the medium.

The concert began with Domine Deus by the well-known composer Antonio Vivaldi. Celia Brockway sang with solid intonation and tender tone. Tithecott followed the singer flexibly and with good taste. Although the piano was not apart of the instrumental arsenal, the harpsichord or organ substitute brought this work closer to the whole group of songs sung that evening, again, reinforcing a reception of all the works. Bach’s revered Agnus Dei was sung beautifully by Kathleen Rosenberger. Her phrasing showed a loudness pallet that included a true pianissimo, affording a nuanced and tempered dynamism reflective of the nature of the text and the era. Completing the representation of Baroque music was Sarah Lovell singing Handel’s (1685–1759) Oh Lord, Hear My Prayer. At the beginning of the work, the composer sets up the work with a typical introduction, but breaks from convention subtley with a tacit keyboard in the first few measures of the solo singer’s line; Handel was catching the listener’s attention in a very powerful way. The singer seized this moment and sang wonderfully.
Representing an age standing between our own and the of the Baroque musical period was Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s (1810–1876) Jesu, the Very Thought of Thee. Sung by the only male singer of the evening, Ben Alley sang with solid intonation and convincing demeanor. The strophic work was decidedly tonal, as would be expected, but it was not without variation in the accompaniment. The idiomatic piano part was wonderfully executed by Tithecott.

I am the Rose of Sharon by Curtis Bryant (b. 1949) was the first to represent a living composer’s music. Despite its youth among the throng, the music itself was not as musically foreign as one might suppose. The beautiful melancholic gestures of many of the pieces on this concert appear to be a historical constant, and was evidenced in Bryant’s song. Ciara Thompson with flutist, Katie Schabillion, performed a fluid melodic line. Bryant uses diatonic planing along with quartal and quintal harmonic structures. From the same generation, J. Halvor Benson’s (b. 1953) Hear My Song exhibited a definite triadic, tonal quality. Avery Thomason and Clarice Miller managed unison passages with finesse, not an easy task.
Taylor Woods sang Jay Anthony Gach’s (b. 1953) version of the hymn All Creatures of Our God and King. Tasteful agogic accents in the piano sufficiently modernized the popular him without estranging it from tradition. The traditional American song Amazing Grace was sung by Bobbi Halfhill in a jazz inspired rendition. Of note was Tithecott’s ability to convincingly change in style character to the singer’s wonderfully relaxed and pure singing. A Wreath by David Evan Thomas (b. 1958) exhibits a composerly style with ideas of motivic saturation of a three note figure. The working out of these figures did not take away from the melodic line. Lauren Davies sang admirably with a brilliant, resonant upper range.

Originally scored for voice, organ, and trumpet, David Heller’s arrangement of He touches the Broken Hearted by Alan Hovhannes (1911–2000) was one of the highlights of the evening. Penelope Makeig’s tone and projection were extremely satisfying. “If I,” from Four Dickenson Songs by Lori Laitman (b. 1955) employed a half-step motive in the pieces construction; Amelia Seidl sang beautifully the flowing melancholic lines. Ronald R. Williams’s (b. 1929) But the Greatest of Them All is Love: I Corinthians 13 was sung with genuine affectation by Meghan Schwab. The piece uses recitative like passages in articulating some of the text, and it was contrasted by moving triadic harmonies and lyrical lines.

In the penultimate work, an excerpt from Libby Larson’s Missa Gaia: Mass for the Earth was performed by Kaitlin Shewmake, who sung with a strong and a lively vibrato. The music in the piano introduction had a melodic contour of consonant leaps of fourths and fifth. This was immediately follow by major and minor sixth motives. Although on paper this appears abrupt, aurally it creates effective movement and contrast in the piece. During the course of the work Kaitlin navigated with ease a myriad of intervalic challenges.

The event ended with Katherine Eberle singing On Christmas Night by Emma Lou Diemer (b. 1927). Eberle sang the up-tempo piece with artistry, holding the audiences attention for every moment of the piece. Very engaging. The composition itself was splendid in its exploration of more driving rhythms within the solo song context. In addition to her singing that evening, the overall program was thoughtfully sequenced. This is no small feat, and the listeners seemed to be considered at many points in the concert; thank you Katherine Eberle!

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