The program at Meredith College's Carswell Concert Hall bore the title "Brush Up Your Shakespeare." The five singers and pianist, calling themselves "APPropos!," serve on the faculty of Appalachian State University. The masterly and imaginative presentation consisted of some twenty-odd songs using texts from Shakespeare's works.
Scarcely could one have hoped for a finer group of musicians. In a couple of pieces, including the opening "Fancy," from The Merchant of Venice, they sang in ensemble. But it was in the solos that the quality became most evident.
Mezzo-soprano Mary Gayle Greene was first up with that same "Fancy" text. She later drew the Erich Wolfgang Korngold treatment of "Come Away, Death," from Twelfth Night. Her post-intermission role as Desdemona, singing "Willow, Willow" (Othello), in a setting by Percy Grainger, showed her honey-dripped voice to near perfection.
Priscilla Porterfield, another top-notch mezzo, offered three songs from Shakespeare: "Take, O Take" (Measure for Measure), "When Icicles Hang by the Wall" (Twelfth Night), and "Orpheus with His Lute" (As You Like It). Her dramatic skills shone through, particularly in the Vaughan Williams "Icicles" song, along with rather careful enunciation (about which, more later).
Tenor Randall Outland was in fine form with two songs by Roger Quilter and, in a dramatic scene, as the title character in Verdi's Otello, in which the villain Iago is seen at his most dastardly. Outland's recital excellence was on best display in "Fear No More the Heat o' the Sun," from Cymbeline.
Soprano Julia Pedigo was on stage for several outstanding offerings, including two songs by Dominick Argento from Love's Labour's Lost and Twelfth Night. Her magnum opus for the evening, though, would have to be her scene as Verdi's Desdemona singing the heart-rending "Ave Maria." Here her voice could hardly have been improved upon as she intoned this familiar favorite aria, with the haunting chants starting and closing those moments of highest pathos.
Baritone Joseph Amaya was featured in two songs by Quilter, a setting of "Come Away Death," by Gerald Finzi, and as Iago in the aforementioned Verdi scene with Outland. His distinctive low voice (shades of the great John Shirley-Quirk) was particularly pleasing in the Finzi piece. Also, his enunciation was consistently very good. (If the evening's offerings had a noteworthy weakness, it was in the diction area. Shakespeare's lines demand oral clarity as do those of few others. Improvement here would have enhanced most numbers. Having the printed texts available proved invaluable.)
Pianist Rodney Reynerson provided strong support for the singers throughout, and especially so in the "Willow, Willow" and in the closing "Ave Maria." His solo offering, Debussy's "La Danse de Puck" (Midsummer Night's Dream), showed the unsurprising quality of someone who has studied with Jorge Bolet and with the Beaux Arts Trio's Menahem Pressler.
The privilege of witnessing an event of this artistic level and uncommon nature comes along seldom in one's musical and literary life. Attendance by all Meredith music students should have been mandatory. And absent faculty members might even have profited.