On Sunday afternoon, Dr. Elaine Yontz, professor of librarianship at ECU and degreed music historian from the University of Florida, presented a bully-good benefit concert to benefit the Music House. Yontz is Everyman's pixie playmate; she put together a splendid vaudeville show utilizing some of Greenville's greatest amateur (and otherwise) talent. And she's a force to be reckoned with.
The house was packed and there were standees at the back when the evening opened with Matt King, tenor, and John O'Brien, piano, performing Agustín Lara's eponymous love song to Granada. King's powerful and emotional singing and O'Brien's playing (he is a professor of accompaniment) laid down a hard first act to follow.
Saint-Saëns' The Swan was originally scored for two pianos and has gone on to everything from cello to theremin. This version featured a very skillful Jack Fisher, clarinet, with the first of many appearances on this bill of pianist Justin Sturz. Fisher mentioned beforehand that he knew that the tarantula in Bill Douglas' Blues Tarentella is a spider, not a bug, but was close enough to the theme.
Erin Stowe (acc. Sturz), has a small but pure voice and a wagonload of first-class dramatic expression; she gave us "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" by Sondheim.
From the series of love songs which Schumann named Myrthen, Jason Kossol (acc. Sturz) gave a good presentation of "Die Lotosblume" and "Du bist wie eine Blume." Kossol's bel canto was right up at the top of my list.
Dr. Chris Mann (a surgeon) and Yontz (acc. Sturz) played Wm. Williams' (fl.1677-1704) Sonata "In Imitation of Birds." Mann and Yontz were more interesting players than Williams was a composer; Sturz had some runs that he executed with fluid skill.
Everyone knows the lyrics to "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes" pretty much by heart; not everyone knows they are a poem by Ben Jonson of 1616. The traditional tune was a perfect vehicle to show off the smooth tenor voice and careful diction of Michael Vetrano (acc. Sturz).
Stowe joined Vetrano on the stage (acc. Sturz) for Lerner and Loewe's "Heather on the Hill" from Brigadoon. The May to August (at least not December) age spread between the singers was only a problem with one's eyes open. Eyes closed, their voices were perfect together.
A mixed consort of Mann, Yontz, Fisher, and Jon Ward Shaw, recorders and crumhorns, (Sturz got a little break in this and the next piece) played three funny Renaissance pieces.
The recorders stayed on stage to play with the audience (who were asked to sing the pes to "Sumer is icumen in"). The balance was terrible, the players overwhelmed by the audience, but it was an interesting demonstration of this mid-thirteenth century English piece.
Elisa Alfonso, modern flute (acc. Sturz), played Wilhelm Peterson-Berger's "Frösöblomster." This was a lot of fresh and spritely flute playing with brilliant accompaniment. Alfonso is really good, with precise intonation; in this piece, there were several long high notes that were so piercing and shrill they cut like a new file. But perhaps it was the acoustics; Alfonso is really good.
Lerner and Loewe's "Lusty Month of May" from Camelot brought out Stowe again (acc. Sturz); she used just enough of a British accent to evoke Camelot without sounding like a Cockney flower girl.
She remained on the stage for Vetrano (acc. Sturz) to sing to, with more Camelot: "If Ever I Would Leave You" – very effective.
An unlikely high point of the evening was Mann's solo soprano recorder performance of Jacob van Eyck's "Engels Nachtegaeltje" (English Nightingale). Van Eyck takes a simple melody, also used by other anonymous composers of his time, and adds all kinds of virtuosic bird twitters. Mann took the van Eyck and made fantastic music.
Sturz finally got a chance at the spotlight, playing his own interpretation of Weiss and Thiele's "What a Wonderful World." Sturz was really good. Sturz had been playing in every genre imaginable in this concert. Three cheers.
Vetrano and Yontz (acc. Sturz) delivered a stunning "You're Just In Love" from Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam. Who'd-a thunk it. Bravi, bravi!
In a spectacular display of personality, Kossol (acc. Sturz) sang "In Tune on a Spring Afternoon" by Tom Lehrer. The youngest of the audience, not in long trousers yet, but in a very special seersucker suit, had been very "good" and had shown little expression, even at the crumhorns. At the first "poisoning pigeons in the park" he perked up, as if to say "Did he really say what I think I heard?" At each reprise of "poisoning pigeons in the park" his smile got bigger.
The company all came on stage again (acc. Sturz) to lead the audience in singing "Sidewalks of New York," "Bicycle Built for Two," and "My Wild Irish Rose" – a jolly time was had by all.
And if this review resembles a laundry list more than is our norm, so be it: this was that kind of show!