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A Tenor's Delight: Stafford Wing's Imaginative Hill Hall Recital

September 23, 2003 - Chapel Hill, NC:


Veteran UNC tenor Stafford Wing was joined by a number of his music department colleagues in Hill Hall on September 21 for a wide-ranging and imaginative program that featured unusual combinations. Despite no longer being in the first "blush" of youth, Wing was in very good voice. Little vocal strain was evident and his crystal clear diction was a model for any singer to follow. The English texts came across cleanly and the German texts seemed to flow even more smoothly, perhaps due to his voice having further warmed up or the way the lines suited the voice.

The first half of the concert featured delightful Baroque works for voice accompanied by a small chamber ensemble that varied in configuration. Trumpeter David McChesney was delightful in the first three selections, in which he was joined by a continuo group of cellist Brent Wissick and harpsichordist Kevin Bartig. Purcell's "Hark! The ech'ing Air," from The Fairy Queen, and "Sound the Trumpet featured imitation between the lines of the soloist and the brass. Wing had an apt ring in some words. From Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato, "Mirth, with Thee I Mean to Live" featured a nice instrumental introduction. Only the cello and keyboard were used for two selections from Purcell's Harmonia Sacra. "We sing to Him" was anthem-like, but the performance of "Evening Hymn" was choice, opening with a lovely long cello opening solo that persisted as an obligato reflection of Wing's words about mortality. This was a real gem. The continuo players were joined by flutist Brooks de Wetter-Smith, oboist Michael Schultz, and violinist Richard Luby for a fine performance of the cantata Meine Seele Rühmt und Preist by Melchoir Hoffmann (c.1679-1715). This piece was formerly attributed to J.S. Bach, and it featured warm oboe melodies from Schultz and elegant flute playing from Wetter-Smith. Luby's violin part was much briefer and sometimes doubled the flute part. Hill Hall's notorious acoustics sometimes played havoc with the sound of the harpsichord, which sounded fine when it could be heard. This problem varied in degree from piece to piece.

The most challenging work on the program was John Corigliano's Three Irish Folksong Settings, for the unusual combination of voice with an elaborate flute accompaniment. "The Sally Gardens" is a sad reflection upon a lost love. There were complex twists and turns between the flute part and the vocal line with two anguished lines - "I being young and foolish with her did not agree" and " I was young and foolish and am full of tears" - summing up the lover's heartache. "The Foggy Dew" is alternately fleet and slow, with a lovely turnabout at the end. Interesting imagery supported by Wetter-Smith's flute in "She Moved Through the Fair" led to such beautiful moments as a gliding musical line for the words "as the swan moves over the lake"; it is rather like a haiku version of Sibelius' "The Swan of Tuonela." Wing managed a fine Celtic accent but for this work a copy of the English text would have helped.

Superb piano accompaniment by Thomas Otten was the highlight of five Schubert songs that ended the concert. The piano lid was up and its full resources were deployed in the solo portions but the dynamics were perfectly reined in when the keyboard supported Wing's voice. "An die Leier," D.737, features a long prelude for the piano and was given with considerable drama by both musicians. In The Schubert Companion, John Reed writes that the composer "dramat(izes) the poet's conflicting moods, turning the epic sentiments into impassioned recitative and the amatory ones into a long flowing nobilmente line... juxtaposing them." Described by Reed as the last of the composer's "brook songs" and " as perfect in its quiet lyricism as any of them," "Liebesbotschaft," D.957, is light and good humored with a murmuring keyboard part portraying a brooklet. The team perfectly captured "Die Forelle," D.550, the most familiar song on the program. Reed writes that the somber "Wanderers Nachtlied" "match(es) the changing phrases of the poet's thought with a variable pulse within a unifying mood and basic tempo." This was followed by the extensive and less familiar "Der Musensohn" ("The Muse's Son"), D.764; Reed says Schubert misses "the Ariel-like longing for release" in the first verse but notes that the song's popularity is due to "the complimentary nature of the alternating strophes" with the "tunes so closely matched and the tonalities (a third apart) so interdependent." This made an apt ending to a very enjoyable recital that stressed ensemble.