Is there a more uplifting human-interest story in the world of fine music than that of James Longmire? Those who for forty years have noted his ascent from raw but talented youth to accomplished musical artist think not. The eminent bass-baritone warmed a crisp Sunday afternoon with a recital in the cheery sanctuary of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh. For the seventeen songs ranging from the ancient Purcell to the current Sondheim, accompanist Susan Timmons offered congenial and indispensable support.
Early in the program he was believable as Purcell's Job when he intoned, "Lord, what is man?" (that thou shouldst be so mindful of him). Of Schubert's copious output of songs, he was partial to three from the Schwanengesang (Swansong) cycle, all set to texts from the renowned German poet, Heinrich Heine: "Der Atlas," "Das Fischermadchen" (The fisher-maiden) and "Der Doppelganger" (The phantom double). He was at his dramatic best when addressing the phantom, aided by especially supportive accompaniment. His fourth, and perhaps most widely familiar, Schubert venture was "Wohin" (Whither), by Wilhelm Müller, from the cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin (The fair miller-maid).
Verdi and Ravel made appearances on the well-balanced program. From the Verdi Ernani, he grieved over cruel fortune with "Infelice! e tuo credevi." Of the three Ravel songs, the most charming was "Chanson epique" (Epic song), a desperate prayer to Saint Michael for knightly graces to win a lady.
When he opted for the "Three Shakespeare Songs" by Roger Quilter (1877-1953), Longmire chose a set that was ideal for his vocal range and his dramatic potential. He brought intensity to "Come away, Death" (and in sad cypress let me be laid, slain by a fair cruel maid). After the lighter "O Mistress mine," he put an austere and potent ending to the set with an excerpt from As You Like It, "Blow, blow thou Winter Wind" (kinder than a man's ingratitude.)
From his ever-popular spiritual repertory, he declared that "I want Jesus to walk with me" each day, and particularly "On ma journey." After the Sondheim showpiece, "Everybody says don't," he closed an engaging afternoon with an encore that might qualify as his "signature" number, "Deep River."
These two musicians, along with soprano Katherine Kaufman Posner, violinist Jerrold Posner, and mezzo Shannon French, will appear on February 4 at Duke University. See our calendar for details.