When the Chamber Choir of the North Carolina Master Chorale claimed that the latest edition of their “Romance in the Air” series would feature music from the 70’s, they weren’t indulging in empty rhetoric. In fact they brought forth samples from six centuries worth of “70s” there in Kenan Recital Hall on the campus of William Peace University. This program on a blustery Saturday evening was a repeat of the one presented there earlier in the afternoon.
Reaching all the way back to 1475, the trio comprising Music Director (and countertenor) Al Sturgis, tenor Robert Maddrey and viola de gamba player Robbie Link led off with “Ma bouche rit” (My mouth laughs) by Johannes Ockeghem. Then it was fast forward a century to 1570 and Phillipe de Monte’s “Ah chi mi romp’il sonno” (Who interrupts my sleep?), featuring all sixteen of the chamber singers. These works, particularly the latter, were of such quality and so well realized that one could almost overcome any pre-existing aversion to Renaissance music.
Jean-Baptiste Lully’s beautiful “Profitons des beaux jours” (Make the most of beautiful days) dated from 1670. The lively piano of Susan McClaskey Lohr enhanced “Viva pur la giardiniera” (Long live the gardener) from Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera (1775). Closing out the olden days was the sublimely wonderful “O Schöne Nacht” (Oh Beautiful Night) from 1877 by Brahms. Here Sturgis rightly pointed out the integral nature of Lohr’s piano accompaniment to this piece.
After a brief intermission, all the performers reappeared in transmogrified form, all the better to transport the audience back to the 1970’s. One formerly bald singer sported a luxuriant ‘do reminiscent of the era’s excesses. All featured mixtures of the shabby-chic, grunge and polyester that lent so much charm to the decade.
They told of a “Long Train Runnin’” and asked “How Deep is Your Love?” They declared that “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” For most of these period pieces, the contribution of pianist Lohr, bassist Link and percussionist Mark Simonsen cannot be overemphasized. Their steady and insistent beat carried the works along with an admirable authenticity. And their pre-program swinging set made even the wait enjoyable. (One irreverent attendee opined that here was probably the best part of the evening.)
An especially musical a cappella number, “If (a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?),” featured soloists Jennifer Seiger and Keith Lunday. Carol Ingbretsen brought a smoky mezzo to “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” Pieces like these could convince holdouts (at least one) that there had been indeed some genuine musical content in the 1970’s. The theme from Ice Castles was yet another number whose tunefulness and sentiment greatly enhanced one’s memories of the era. “…I found you, Looking through the eyes of love.”
The fourteen selections ended with an Earth, Wind & Fire medley, each of the three becoming more and more frantic (and less and less musical?). The audience and the performers clearly enjoyed the jollity and the Saint Valentine’s Day component of the evening. The quality of the performers was such that these new interpretations were likely better than the originals – faint praise perhaps when one considers how the originals actually sounded.