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Lucy and Henry Ingram founded Music for a Great Space 21 years ago, in part to expose the Greensboro community to great organ literature but also to fill the area's need for great chamber music using local and visiting artists. Most of the series' concerts take place in Christ United Methodist Church but some are given in the more intimate setting of Temple Emanuel.
The Annual Henry Ingram Memorial Concert is presented in Greensboro's finest acoustical environment, Dana Auditorium, on the bucolic campus of Guildford College. These concerts have featured the noted piano accompanist Warren Jones and singers who were closely associated with Henry Ingram early in their career. One of the delights of the memorial concerts is the chance to hear Jones as a soloist in serious repertoire as well as lighter fare in which he reveals a gift for hammy humor. Jones is a NC native, as is tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, the noted international opera star and High Point native, who was scheduled. The series was very lucky to get on short notice the rising international baritone Sidney Outlaw, a native of Brevard, to replace the indisposed tenor. Outlaw's career had its beginnings in UNC Greensboro School of Music's opera program, led by David Holley.
Three Lieder by Johannes Brahms opened the program. In "Botschaft" (Message), Op. 47/1, a suitor asks the gentle breeze to caress his lover's cheek and hair and, if she asks how the hard pressed man is doing, to tell her he can but hope. This is one of the composer's few optimistic songs! "Die Mainacht" (May Night), Op. 43/2, is lovely, with its images of moonlight and nightingales and cooing doves. The lonely poet yearns for an unfound love. "Von ewiger Liebe" (Of Eternal Love), Op. 43/1, tells the story of two lovers of unequal social class walking in the night. The man offers to give up their relationship but the woman says their love is as strong as steel and iron. This song is very dramatic, with a storm about half way through. These songs revealed the superb evenness of Outlaw's voice across its range. The first two songs gave scope to his lighter tone and refined control of color and dynamics. Op. 43/1 let Outlaw unleash his full power in the passionate and stormy portion while he scaled down his voice effortlessly to deliver the girl's reply. Outlaw's German diction was superb; his full and resonant tone was immediately winning, as was his ability to spin a seamless line. Jones' accompaniment was excellent, whether in the gentle "Impressionism" of Op. 43/2 or the full, raging fury of Op. 43/1.
Jones, as piano soloist, displayed fine form in three selections by Brahms. The Intermezzo in A, Op.118/1, opens with a declamatory flourish. According to Ray Minshull, in program notes for Julius Katchen's Decca set of Brahms' works for solo piano, the Capriccio in C sharp minor, Op. 76/5, is "passionate and uncompromising" with "vigorous cross-rhythms and theme mutations giv(ing) a feeling of urgency and agitation." Minshull says the theme of Rhapsody No. 2 in G minor, Op 79, is "of great breath, driven by a relentless forward movement." Continuing, he writes, "The theme dissolves into a menacing cloud of triplets in the middle section, but returns to stalk the recapitulation." Jones brought out all the intensity of the Intermezzo. He brought plenty of power to the assertive Capriccio while readily scaling back for a lovely and gentle repeated figure midway through. Watching Jones' powerhouse delivery of the Second Rhapsody whetted the appetite to hear him venture into some of the Romantic concerto repertoire. His articulation of the rapid cross-hands section was terrific.
Outlaw's mastery of core Italian opera repertoire was displayed in selections by Mozart and Verdi. It was a real treat to hear "Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo," described by the Earl of Harewood (in The New Kobbe's Complete Opera Book) as "a magnificent buffo aria originally planned" for opening of Act I, scene II, of Così fan Tutte. Outlaw said it was Guglielmo boasting of his prowess and taking a humorous shot at the sisters. "Deh, vieni alla finestra," from Don Giovanni, is the seductive serenade the Don sings, accompanying himself on a mandolin, to lure Donna Elvira's maid to a tryst in Act II. "O Carlo, ascolta," from Verdi's magnificent Don Carlo, is the great death scene in Act IV, scene 2, for the Rodrigo, who dies happy that Carlos will champion the liberty of the Netherlands. Outlaw's diction was superb, as was his dramatic embodiment of each strongly-contrasted character, in turn. Outlaw's wily Don was deliciously seductive, and Jones' left hand managed to conjure strummed strings! It would be terrific to see the baritone in a staged Don Carlo since he presented the full range of the tragic Rodrigo's emotions. Bravo!
Post-intermission found the artists in lighter fare. Jones brought wonderful phrasing and rhythmic verve to three rags by Scot Joplin: "The Easy Winners," "Ragtime Dance," and, as an encore, "Maple Leaf Rag." "Ragtime Dance" featured Jones' foot stomping!
Outlaw brought plenty of humor to Cole Porter's "A Tale of the Oyster," in which the social-climbing oyster ends the story with "I had a taste of society and society had a taste of me!" This had the audience in stitches!
Two George Gershwin selections - Jake's aria "A Woman is a Sometimes Thing," from Porgy and Bess, and an infectious performance of "It's just Another Rhumba" - were delivered with great panache.
Both artists pulled out all the stops for a torrid "Night and Day" by Porter. Afterwards Outlaw said he had always wanted to "swoon and drag it out like that in front of all of his professors!"
Traditional gospel fare brought the concert to a close with dignity and feeling. "There is Balm in Gilead" was followed by Hall Johnson's "Witness" and "A City Called Heaven." Jones' piano rhythm depicted the chugging of a train and he vocalized the train's conductor calling in Henrietta Simpson's "Git on Board!!!"
A prolonged standing ovation, well and truly earned, was rewarded by three encores, including the aforementioned "Maple Leaf Rag," "Over my head I hear Music in the Air" sung a cappella by Outlaw, and Jones and Outlaw together in "Deep River."