Tenor/baritone duo Mitchener Howell and Jay Pierson and pianist Catherine Hamner traveled from the Triangle to entertain a Greenville audience at John O’Brien’s Music House. The concert began with the usual early music top hits but moved quickly to rarely-heard pieces such as French folk songs arranged and sung by the baritone member of the duo, a clever Appalachian folk song that was less than a minute in length, and contrasting pieces by notable African-American composers Undine Smith Moore and Robert Nathaniel Dett.
The Dett Spiritual “Follow Me” proved to be a turning point for Howell, whose performance prior to this piece (more than half way through the recital) was characterized by stoic facial expressions and tone produced so lightly it was at times nearly inaudible. In “Follow Me,” however, he opened up both physically and vocall, and continued in that way for the remainder of the concert.
Pierson, on the other hand, was engaged with and connected to the audience from start to finish. Though billed as a bass at the head of the program and a bass-baritone in his biographical sketch, Pierson’s light lower register, warm middle register, and sweet upper tones were more like those of the quintessential high French baritone à la Gérard Souzay. Also like Souzay, every tone was married to the text. This approach was perfect for the aforementioned French folk songs, which Pierson performed elegantly.
The two also performed several duets including Schumann’s “Ei Mühle, liebe Mühle,” “Touch the Earth Lightly” (lovely in both melody and message), and their well-received comic closing “A Very Victorian Duet.” The voices blended beautifully in all of their joint endeavors, and their ensemble was impressive. The words “impressive ensemble” could actually be used to describe every piece on the recital given the fine piano playing of Catherine Hamner. Hamner was always in sync with her partners, bringing to each piece exactly what it needed. Delicate, dark, or showy – she was fully capable of projecting all through her tone and musicianship.
Of course, concerts at The Music House would not be complete without the hors d’oeuvres offered by The Kinston Trio, which once again provided just the right combination of sweet and savory tidbits.