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Daniel Weiser, the indefatigable founder and Artistic Director of AmiciMusic, has found a perfect venue for his concerts at White Horse Black Mountain. The arts venue established by Bob Hinkle and Kim Hughes hosts a variety of entertainments in a cabaret setting. This unbuttoned atmosphere fits nicely with Weiser's mission to break down barriers between audience and performers and to make the experiencing of classical music fun. And while Weiser is a formidable and versatile pianist, he's as passionate about his conversations with the audience about the music and its composers, frequently quoting from them, their friends, and their critics. The programming for this concert with soprano Christine Cullen and Weiser at the piano ranged from the serious world of opera and German lieder to operetta and musical theater, capped by a set of sentimental Irish songs. Two nocturnes by Dublin-born composer John Field rounded out this tribute to Irish music.
Christine Cullen has recently moved to the Asheville area from New Jersey where her career embraced singing roles and work as an opera educator. She brings to her performances a deep understanding of the dramatic importance of each work and an impressive expressive range. Weiser is equally at home accompanying instrumentalists and vocalists as he is playing solo piano works, and his improvisational skills are nothing short of amazing.
The program opened with three arias from Puccini, the dramatic situations of which were explained beforehand — "Quando men vo" from La Bohème, "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Turandot, and "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine. Puccini's popularity as an opera composer was acknowledged and celebrated once again in their encore "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Gianni Schicchi at the program's end. Two piano solos by John Field, Nocturne No. 2 in B flat and Nocturne No. 5 in C minor, allowed us to hear the important instrumental predecessors to Chopin's more celebrated compositions in the genre.
Next came three famous lieder by Richard Strauss, "Allerseelen," "Nacht," and Zueignung," these with texts and translations on the back of the program. The first half ended on lighter notes, "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" arranged by Margaret Bonds.
Following intermission came "Vilia" (sung in English) from The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar, and two songs from American musicals — "Till There Was You" from The Music Man by Meredith Wilson and "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady by Frederick Loewe. Weiser, well warmed to his tasks, really let loose on the latter two with over-the-top improvisations that brought appreciative hoots and applause. Following this were two numbers from Finian's Rainbow by Burton Lane, "How are Things in Glocca Morra" and "Look to the Rainbow." Coincidentally, there had been a rainbow in the sky following the area's thunderstorms as I entered WHBM, surely an Irish foreshadowing of these sweet songs. To conclude were three Irish favorites — "My Wild Irish Rose" by Chauncey Olcott, "Danny Boy" by Fred Weatherly, and "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" by Ernest Ball. These were meant to be sing-alongs, but the small crowd was happy to let the professionals rule from the stage.