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In the performer’s worst nightmare, even the walls are carpeted. While the walls at Oakmont Baptist Church are not carpeted, there is full thick plush luxurious carpet, on a thick pad, and the pew cushions are the thickest and deadliest I’ve ever seen. This is typical of many new Southern Baptist churches. These structures are now frequently of the highest, if most dubious tech for music performance. They favor another kind of performance, with everyone body-miked, controlled by a techie at a sound board and blared out in stentorian fashion over myriad speakers, in order to overcome the cushions and carpet. Such was the case today.
Working hard against the sponge effect, both the singers and the orchestra acquitted themselves very well. Balance was generally excellent in every way, with the exception of the harpsichord, a “Revival-style” instrument with lots of pedals and complicated trapwork, a music desk as big as a sewer grate, and no volume to speak of, further choked down by a lid only six or eight inches open. It was probably nice to have been spared the tone quality. There was a further something going on with the acoustics in addition to the lack of reverberation, something that made a lot of the orchestral tone not as clear in the large pieces as they were capable of in the soft passages.
This is intended as a review primarily of the Greenville Choral Society chorus. If the intention were different, one could write a strong review entitled “An Evening with Jon Shaw, soprano, and her back-up band.” Which is not meant to slight Carolyn Myers, soprano (Gabriel); Pablo Bustos, tenor (Uriel); and John Kramar, bass, (Raphael and Adam); all first rate!, nor the chorus, nor the New Carolina Sinfonia.
Over the last 25 months, I’ve had the privilege of reviewing three different groups performing Haydn’s The Creation; it is definitely music that I love to hate (so to speak); the composition is on such a lofty plane and is so devoid of anything like evil, sex, or fun, that I find it seriously lacking in dramatic tension. I’ve also come to appreciate how very careful and clear the playing needs to be to succeed in “The Representation of Chaos.” This one movement was the one serious weak point of the Greenville performance. But once Raphael opened his mouth and sang, “In the beginning,” everybody, both singers and players, nailed it every time thereafter!
John Kramar’s tone is warm; he has a fat voice running with marinara sauce, vino rosso, and good cheer, his diction is incredible. Every syllable of every word he sang was completely intelligible. He also had the volume necessary to stand up to the room. Carolyn Myers was equal to him in every way. These two were an interesting contrast in singing style, Kramar singing with a very closed mouth and Myers with her mouth wide open. Pablo Bustos was equal to him in every way save balance; he has not the volume to match Kramar or to cope with the room. His is a voice of pure silver by moonlight, with a very carefully controlled vibrato. His is a name to look for, especially if he finds venues and pieces better suited to his voice than The Creation. The effortless, beautiful, precise voice of Jon Shaw, who sang Eve, is in a special category by itself.
Of special note was the excellent clarinet playing in Gabriel’s aria “On mighty pens uplifted” (No. 26). This aria also enjoyed the best orchestral playing of the evening, crisp and clear. In the recitative “And God created great whales,” (No. 17) the wonderful walking bass must have been lost in the room. The violins were strong and nice in the Trio and Chorus “Most beautiful appear” (No. 19); Kramar’s leviathan voice was perfect for singing of Leviathan.
In Part Three, Barra’s interpretation of No. 28, the Duet with Chorus “By thee with bliss” made the structure clearer than I’ve ever heard! The chorus had a fine youthful sound and a little barefoot angel on the front row danced the whole movement. I could not have agreed with her more!