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The Chamber Choir of the North Carolina Master Chorale could have been forgiven for showing a spirit of lassitude at Kenan Recital Hall. After all, they had presented this selfsame program a couple of hours earlier at that Peace College venue. But to the contrary, their liveliness was notable from the opening Brahms Op. 52, the Liebesliederwalzer. Here the splendid four-hand piano accompaniment was provided by the group's regular accompanist, Susan McClaskey Lohr, along with Tom Lohr from the Meredith College faculty.
Among the eighteen waltzes, "O die Frauen" showed the men at their best. This one was followed by "Wie des Abends schone Rote," giving the women their due. No. 7 demonstrated the stylish soprano of Debra Murphy. William McCulloch brought to No. 17 a pleasing tenor, with particularly clear enunciation. While these pieces would probably not be noted for showing off a group's ensemble talents, still those qualities seemed to come across best in No. 8, "Wenn so lind dein Auge mir."
As announced by director Al Sturgis after the intermission, the presentation moved from three-quarter time (the Brahms waltzes) to veritable swing. The featured music was universal favorites that had been drawn from movies. Enormous credit needs to be given up front to the combo that accompanied most of these pieces. The aforementioned Susan Lohr along with Robbie Link on bass and Ed Butler on drums furnished backup and a foundation that tended to assure success. Their contribution was telegraphed early on as they provided pre-program, mood-setting entertainment. Included were as many as ten or so pieces, such as "Isn't It Romantic," "The Nearness of You," and "The Look of Love."
"The More I See You," from Diamond Horseshoe, and "Moon River," from Breakfast at Tiffany's, opened the swing session. And who could forget "As Time Goes By" as it evoked memories of Casablanca? (In this piece, Michael Trexler's performance so excited some of the women in the audience that they tried to swamp him with certain articles of their clothing!). Most of these works, in addition to their absolute qualities, were powerful for recalling the past, sometimes distant and dim. Take "Unchained Melody." How long has it been since anyone had thought of Al Hibbler from the mid- and late-fifties?
Mancini's and Mercer's "Days of Wine and Roses" gave the combo a breather. Here the singers were strictly on their own, powerfully declaiming these dreamy lyrics.
Absent from the printed program were features that allowed several of the performers to show their talents as frustrated salon artists. Sturgis went first (he was, after all, the boss). His "I've Got You under My Skin" showcased latent Frank Sinatra talents. He then introduced torch singer Jennifer Seiger, who made her appeal to the "Blue Moon." Later, chanteuse Carol Ingbretsen was captivating with "Honeysuckle Rose." A quick translation to French, and hers could have made for a passable Edith Piaf. Duane Donders gave an appealing treatment to the less familiar "With a Wink and a Smile."
One more number needs special mention. Sturgis identified the Babes in Arms piece, "My Funny Valentine," as the group's signature song. Here the singers held their scores by their sides. As is almost always the case, the precision, ensemble, and general excellence were magnified as the work was performed from memory.
It is always most pleasant to be reminded of a time when popular music was so memorable –music that the hearer might even recall with whistle and hum, music that quite uplifts! So here was an evening dedicated to the light spirit of old Saint Valentine himself. To judge from the enthusiasm of the sizable audience, it met with unqualified success.
*We are pleased to introduce Paul D. Williams to our CVNC readers. For a brief biographical sketch, see About Us.