Two of Raleigh's flagship artistic institutions, the North Carolina Museum of Art and Chamber Music Raleigh, have collaborated to present a program of art songs paired with art as a continuation of the Sights and Sounds on Sundays concert series. Operatic ensemble Nuance Lyrique has built a program linked to various works of art, drawing a few pieces from the exhibit of American impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam on display at the museum through June 19.
Nuance Lyrique, an ensemble of four musicians: tenor Randall Outland, soprano Simone Vigilante, soprano Karen Svites, and pianist/pinch-hitting tenor Vance Reese. The group doubles as an operatic ensemble that also offers staged opera and operetta under the name Opera Creations.
Much like a series of wine pairings at a restaurant, some of the songs were intimately and beautifully connected to the chosen artwork, and some were more tenuously linked. Additionally, the connections between the art and the music were perhaps briefly mentioned in the commentary regarding each pair, but never explored in depth. The program left much of the connection between the different artistic media up to the audience members. The musical selections were carefully chosen and sequenced. Most selections were in English and written by composers who had spent extensive time in America. Composers ranged from luminaries such as Aaron Copland, to brilliant but infrequently heard artists like Joseph Marx, to musicians still working and writing today. Most of the visual artists had some form of a connection to Asheville, but the most important link to the music was often subject matter, followed by emotional content.
Nuance Lyrique is very much representative of small artistic organizations in the state of North Carolina. They have a strong focus on blending education and entertainment and small but loyal community support. The level of talent was admittedly somewhat uneven, but the group managed to produce very well-blended ensemble work in spite of differences in experience and training. Reese's accompaniment was consistently stellar throughout the program, supporting, responding, and creatively contributing. Outland brought a level of musical maturity and depth to the group, and Vigilante provided the pizazz. Her performance of Marx's "Selige Nacht" was technically impressive as well as deeply touching. Svites, even though she did not appear to be performing at her best (partially confirmed after listening to some better recordings of her on Youtube), was still dramatically and emotionally effective, especially in her rendition of "Poème" by William Grant Still.
For better or for worse, this concert included so much discussion of the works of art and music as to be, in reality, a lecture recital. Had it been marketed as such, there would have been no complaints here. When the first note of music is not sounded for a full twenty minutes until after the start of the program, however, the experience may be disappointing to those expecting a true concert. While the commentary regarding the music and composers was well-researched and relatively well-presented, some of the information presented about the artwork focused on pedantic details (such as lists of museums displaying other works by the artist). Perhaps a pre-concert lecture, extensive program notes, or merely a more condensed approach would have been a more effective way to present the information. As it was, the interspersed "lecturettes" took up at least a third of the concert time.
Sights and Sounds on Sundays has one final concert in their season, Boylan Brass on May 22. Check out our calendar for details!