The Unity Church of the Triangle was new to me, though it is in a venerable building at a familiar address – the northeast corner of Moore Square in the center of Raleigh. The sanctuary dates back to 1879, when it was built as the Tabernacle Baptist Church. The space is large and bright, and proved to have fine acoustics for chamber music. Presenting a varied selection of classical works was Vox Eccentric: mezzo soprano Evelyn McCauley, vocal soloist at the Unity Church; Scott McKenzie, the music director; and Kevin Streich, principal clarinet with the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle. The program was titled "Three Voices: a Concert."
Opening the afternoon was an arrangement of the well-known Vocalise (op. 34, no. 14) by Rachmaninoff, for wordless soprano, clarinet obbligato and piano, setting a contemplative tone for the concert, and showing off McCauley’s lovely sound. Both here and in the single song by Malcolm Arnold that followed, “Beauty Haunts the Woods” Streich’s clarinet was noticeably sharp to the rest of the ensemble, a problem that continued in the Poulenc Sonata for clarinet and piano (1962), where otherwise Streich demonstrated a formidable technique and expressive musicianship (hard to say why his instrument should have been so much higher than the piano – normally winds become sharper as they warm up).
Two songs by Mahler followed, the first two from his Songs of a Wayfarer; “Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht” and “Ging heut morgen übers Feld,” both comparing the happiness of the outside world with the sadness of the poet. Mahler lovers will have recognized the theme of the latter song as that used for the opening movement of the First Symphony. McCauley’s German was fine, and her renditions were beautiful – a musical high point.
Closing the first half was a very effective and entertaining song cycle, A Garden of Weeds, with words by Jacqueline Froom and music by Terence Greaves, with musical portraits of the thistle (prickly!), belladonna (seductively Latina), nettle (cranky), poppy (sleepy), and buttercup (simple-minded), given wonderfully histrionic realizations by McCauley, with a good mix of spoken and sung production, and illustrative interjections from Streich’s clarinet.
The second half (with a new gown for the mezzo!) began with a set of Brahms lieder, very nicely done; moved to a set of Three Etudes on Themes of Gershwin for unaccompanied clarinet; virtuoso works, played with wit and good humor by Streich, music very much worth hearing, far more than simple etudes. The program then closed with one song from a cycle by Adam Guettel, and the Simple Song from Bernstein’s Mass, both for voice, clarinet and piano.
A fine afternoon’s entertainment, and to the church’s credit, the event was very well-attended, and the music warmly received. It promises to be the first of many such.