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The splendid singing of Amanda Horton, soprano, with piano accompanist Vance Reese and the superb baritone of Jonathan Ross, brought pleasure to the large audience in St. Matthias Church. Horton's beautiful, rich soprano brought great color and vocal expressiveness to an excellent collection of well-loved American tunes, described in the program as “A musical journey through the Wild West, the Deep South, Appalachia and Broadway.”
Horton, from the beginning of this concert, was in excellent voice which filled the hall with its great power, range, and expressiveness. In all her selections she maintained vocal warmth and control and an air of great relaxation and pleasure. Her performance reflected a seemingly effortless vocal skill, and her body language and constant facial connection with her audience assured that she was totally engaged in every song offered.
The opening number, Andre Previn's “Sallie Chisum remembers Billy the Kid” (1996), allowed Horton to recall, in a voice both sometimes sweet and often passionate, a girl's frustration as she tries to understand her lover's true feelings for her, thus permitting her audience to appreciate the range of emotion she is capable of expressing. Her next six pieces, African-American spirituals calling for her vocal ability to convey with joy and power the composers' love of their God, appealed to many in the audience because of her sincerity and complete understanding of this music. Her treatment of Boatner's “O what a beautiful city,” Brown's “Ain't-a that good news,” Hayes's “Witness” and Bond's “He's got the whole world in his hands” resulted in a happy emotional connection between singer and listeners. For me, however, Horton's powerful treatment of the traditional “Deep river” surpassed her singing of all the other spirituals on the program.
The next three pieces Horton offered brought the audience back to fond recollections of the sweetness and reverie of times past reflected in the long history of American folk songs. In two of these songs Horton sang with quiet passion and simplicity, bringing to life once again Walters' “I gave my love a cherry,” and “Single girl.” The concluding piece, Stanley's “Shenandoah,” was a perfect expression of musical Americana, offered by a superb vocal artist who has the ability to recall profoundly the beauties of our past.
For the final grouping of great American tunes on this program, Amanda Horton joined vocal forces with the excellent baritone of Jonathan Ross, whose big operatic voice is well-known to Asheville Lyric Opera audiences and church congregations. His vocal technique is characterized by its power, range, and energy as well as his ability to convey convincingly the feelings of the characters he brings to life. Horton and Ross were a happy combination of vocal beauty and skill in selections from Richard Rogers' Carousel, particularly their tender rendition of “If I loved you” and the sweetness of “When the children are asleep.” Both singers also sparkled in their solos, especially Horton's “What's the use of wond'rin” and Ross's passionate version of “Soliloquy,” in which he was able to call upon all his vocal and dramatic skill to reveal the deepest feelings of Billy and his dreams of being a father and what he can look forward to.
Finally, in praising the excellence of the singers, I must also offer enthusiastic praise to Vance Reese, whose great skill at the keyboard was an invaluable support to them.
This concert was a fine example of the great vocal artistry the Asheville community is privileged to enjoy during many weeks of the year. Please keep this is mind when you are looking around for musical events to bring pleasure to your lives.