Lyricism was on the list of things to note on Sunday, July 23, as the Brevard Music Center Orchestra featured melody upon melody and then dropped soprano Angela Brown into the mix just to confirm that everybody was paying attention. For sheer variety and unencumbered tunes, this was a great afternoon.
The program opened with the Overture to Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). This is your standard zoomy warm-up number, a veritable cornucopia of tunes, and what BMC Dean Bruce Murray calls "a near-perfect piece."
Then Angela Brown took the stage for the first of her three segments and in the process lit up the entire Whittington-Pfohl Auditorium. Some people are like that – they don't need to actually do anything, they just show up and the whole dynamic changes. She is an imposing figure with a grace in movement and ease of voice so fluid you don't know how difficult it should be. From the first note it was obvious she has something special – it's just too easy, it flows "through" her. With the orchestra reduced in size, she sang "Es gibt ein Reich" from Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss. This was preceded by a hilarious introduction in which Brown, using classical, cultured English and occasional southern matriarchal authority-speak, gave a circuitous description of events taking place in the lyrics. There was no doubting the voice and power of this musician as she sailed through the aria with ease and fluid dynamics.
Then David Effron conducted the 96-member orchestra in a reading of Debussy's "Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun." Principal flutist Elizabeth Buck led the way, her entire performance was lush and memorable. There was a remark in the program noting as "unfortunate " when this work is referred to as the embodiment of "musical impressionism." I haven't caught up with that particular argument so I'm not sure why it's all so unfortunate. However, it is striking music, it does mirror much of what was taking place in the art world at the time, and besides, the Faun lives, right?
No. That's Bambi. Nevermind.
Angela Brown returned with two big arias of Giuseppe Verdi, works that kept the audience primed through intermission. First was "Morro, ma prima in grazia," from Un Ballo in Maschera, and the next was "Pace, Pace, Mio Dio," from La Forza del destino. Brown brought the house down, or up, actually. It was on pitch and in time, and with phrases that pull at your heart. With Maestro Effron coaxing and subdividing fractions of beats, it all made for great theater.
After intermission, Effron lead the orchestra through the Overture to "In Nature's Realm," Op. 91 of Antonin Dvorák. This is great music, new to me. There is a pastoral quality to the work, evening out the peaks and valleys, and there are plentiful tunes. There was excellent playing by the orchestra, too.
Then came three closers by Brown, starting with "He is by," from the opera Margaret Garner by Richard Danielpour. I don't want to suggest that the opera material is dark, but the story is about a woman who kills her children rather than see them captured again and returned to slavery. The central question then becomes, how do you charge the mother? Is it murder, or destruction of property? Yes, deep stuff. (For CVNC's review of the opera as given in Charlotte, click here.)
Then we had two spirituals, "City Called Heaven" arranged by Joubert, and "Were Your There," a quasi-cover of "He's Got The Whole World (In His Hands)," arranged by Wiley. Throughout these performances, Brown kept an eye on the conductor using slight body language or a little nod to close out a phrase. At other times, Effron led the ensemble through groups of phrases and kept his stick visible to everyone for clarity.This was the third appearance of Angela Brown at BMC, though her increasing popularity and workload have resulted in increasingly longer intervals between appearances. Her performance this time will not be forgotten any time soon.