Real crossword puzzle fanatics should have spent their Valentine’s Day eve at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh’s Twenty-Fifth Annual Gala Concert. There they would have been treated to a veritable “olio” of musical offerings. No fewer than twenty-two selections greeted the goodly and hearty crowd in attendance at this latest edition of a tradition that began in 1986. (The “hearty” descriptor applies because of the way they went for the fine spread of food and drink during intermission.)
The talented bass-baritone Robert Chapman opened with a pair of Schubert art songs: “Ständchen” (Serenade), possibly the most familiar of all the composer’s copious output, and “Frühlingstraum” (Dream of Spring), a song from the cycle, Winterreise, but appropriately celebrating the uncommon and unseasonable spring-like day. Yuri Yamamoto, Music Director for the Fellowship, provided authoritative piano accompaniment here and elsewhere. Her virtuosity was on best display as soloist in the closing intense Toccata movement from Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin.
North Carolina Symphony Orchestra bassist and program emcee Erik Dyke offered two unusual and pleasing works for double bass (again with Yuri Yamamoto), an arrangement of Handel’s “Arioso,” and Giovanni Bottesini’s “Elegy,” a melodious piece written for the instrument in its “native” mode.
Beth Tomlin, Duke University faculty member and veteran performer at these Galas, brought her considerable skills to three brief pieces from the Brahms Op. 76, Capriccio No. 2, Intermezzo No. 4, and Capriccio No. 5. She accompanied flutist Anne Dyke in the gorgeous and gorgeously played “Canzone” of Samuel Barber. (Who knew that a flutist could make that composer sound so much like Debussy?) In choosing Cécile Chaminade’s “Concertina,” high school junior flutist Ayla Goktan (Anne Dyke’s student) put in a credible bid to catch up with her instructor.
Violinist Dovid Friedlander and cellist Peng Li, both from the North Carolina Symphony, dazzled the crowd into intermission with a torrid arrangement of Handel’s “Passacaglia.”
After the aforementioned gustatory break in the musical action, eight students from Christine Weidinger’s exceptional Triangle Opera Studio came on for generally brilliant opera tidbits. In a notable display of industry and skill, Kathryn Lewis provided the piano accompaniment for these appearances. Uniformly fine sopranos predominated. Alana Sealy (Verdi), Karen Dear (Mozart), Angela Farlow (Puccini, too young to be sounding so polished!), and Jodi Lewis (Puccini) bestowed quality life on those arias. Tenors Bert Bridger (Giordano) and James Farlow (Donizetti, nine high C’s but who’s counting?) sounded on a par with various professionals that visit the area. Baritone Kurt Melges brought a great low register to Pagliacci, and he accompanied sonorous contralto Leslie Land in a stark departure, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Fellowship members, pianist Abigail Modjeska (Chopin) and bass Joseph Ferguson (Weill and Eric Idle) supplemented the evening early on with their substantial talents. Here was the latest in a storied series with something for everybody. Judicious editing for length would have effected a major enhancement, but nobody in the enthusiastic audience could be heard complaining.