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Music for a Great Space is celebrating its 25th season. It was founded by Henry Ingram and his wife Lucy to fill Greensboro's need for regular intimate musical performances and for music educational outreach in the schools. This Henry Ingram Memorial Concert was held, as are most of the series, in Christ United Methodist Church as part of MGS's annual fundraising dinner for the Ingram Memorial Endowment. Executive Director Rebecca Libera reported the endowment had met its goal of $50,000 and announced a new goal of $75,000 by 2019.
Recent annual Memorial Concerts have featured renowned singers soprano Elizabeth Futral and mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby accompanied by the indispensable pianist Warren Jones who was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in North Carolina. Futral was engaged but the series and her many fans regretted she was indisposed. No finer replacement could have been desired than internationally accomplished baritone Sidney Outlaw. The Brevard native received his Bachelor in Music Performance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro before going on to The Julliard School and from there to the world's stages. The program was arranged into five sets allowing each singer solo time as well as a separate focus on Jones. Sets I – II featured the French song and opera repertoire, Set III sampled the German, while sets IV - V presented mostly lighter American fare.
The quality and range of Outlaw's voice was a constant pleasure. He possessed a rich, warm tone and his voice was superbly supported evenly from its quietest pp to its most robust fff climax. His command of both French and German languages is excellent with each and every word very clear. His palette of dynamics and vocal color is refined. Maultsby has a pleasing, firmly focused voice with no unevenness at its lower or higher range. Her command of both French and German languages was superb. Both vocalists were marvelous singer-actors, adept at subtly painting an intimate song or pulling out all the stops for an operatic aria.
A triptych of three songs, Poéme d'un jour, Op. 21 by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), opened the program. Love is depicted first as delirious idealization, followed by romantic despair, and ending in cool indifference. Outlaw shaded and inflected his voice to limn the changing emotions. Two selections from Les Nuits d'étè, Op. 7 by Hector Berlioz (1803-69) gave Maultsby equal opportunity to conjure up love's myriad of emotions through a celebration of Spring and love in "Villanelle" and an unworldly vision of eternal love in "L'île inconnue."
Operatic mastery was sampled over parts of the remaining sets. From Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Georges Bizet (1838-75), Outlaw fully depicted Zurga's intense conflict between loyalty to his friend Nadir and his jealous unrequited love for Leïla. His other selection was a delightful teaser from the baritone's summer season – a beautiful rendition of Jake's lullaby, "A Woman is a Sometime Thing," from Porgy and Bess. Outlaw will sing the role of Jake for this season's upcoming Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C. Tickets are selling fast for the performances which will take place just blocks away from Catfish Row.
Maultsby's operatic characters could not have been more different. The "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen found the mezzo soprano in a smoldering, devil-may-care mood. Later, she stayed fully in character as a drunken street singer La Périchole, from the Offenbach operetta of the same name. Jones' accompaniment led the staggering soloist on stage where she pulled out all the stops, slurred words, exaggerated emphasis on sounds, everything needed to sell the character, then wobbled off stage. It was worth the price of admission.
Accompanists usually do not get a solo turn in recitals – a custom not observed by Music for a Great Space – and music lovers always look forward to Jones' solo piano selections. On this occasion, Jones said he especially enjoyed being a part of the concert series as he had just learned of Henry Ingram's teaching of piano to so many who remain in the region. His first selection was a real rarity, Percy Grainger's arrangement of Fauré's "Après un rêve." This subtle interplay of color and phasing was strongly contrasted by stormy, turbulent interplay of the Capriccio in C-sharp minor, Op. 76, No. 5 by Johannes Brahms (1833-97). He brought plenty of comic flare and digital dexterity to "Kitten on the Keys" by Zez Confrey (1895-1971). Supposedly the piece was inspired by a kitten wandering about a piano keyboard at night. At one point in his performance Jones quipped "the kitten got lost!"
Other selections were done very well, especially two contrasting Brahms lieder. The program ended with the delightful duet "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" from Shall We Dance by the Gershwin brothers. The encore was Aaron Copland's "At the River" from his Old American Songs.