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The North Carolina Master Chorale Chamber Choir offered "Romance in the Air" on Saturday afternoon (repeated the same evening). The lobby as well as the instrumental trio (Susan McClaskey Lohr, Robbie Link, and Mark Simonsen) filled the air with warmth as people scurried in from the blustery afternoon. The Kenan Recital Hall at William Peace University was packed with people in high spirits, ready to celebrate the upcoming Valentine's Day.
Led by Alfred E. Sturgis and accompanied by Susan McClaskey Lohr, the Chamber choir created a lovely program of romantic music. Sturgis was appointed Music Director of NCMC in 1993, and under his leadership, the Chorale has done regional conferences, recordings, and collaborations with the North Carolina Symphony and Carolina Ballet. He also serves as Music Director of the Tar River Philharmonic Orchestra. His way of giving a little history about each tune and the looks he gives the Chorale show that he is dedicated and fun at the same time. Susan Lohr provided wonderful accompaniments for the chamber choir. Lohr, a native of Kentucky; began her career at age ten and has served on the piano faculties at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, MI, and Meredith College. She has collaborated with many other musicians as well.
The Chamber Choir is a 22-voice ensemble that is comprised of professionals who hold degrees in music or have extensive experience in choral works. This smaller ensemble debuted in the 1996-97 season, and they perform works that range from Renaissance to contemporary works. All of these singers are selected by a competitive audition process. The Chamber Choir, dressed in shades of black and red, filled the first half of the program with love songs of Chopin and Schumann. The Three Songs of Chopin, arranged for chorus and translated into English by composer Norman Dello Joio, were all beautiful. These are part of the 17 original songs that Chopin wrote in Polish for voice and piano. "The Wish," "The Ring," and "The Lovers" tell the story of the personal and public life of Chopin.
Following these three melodies was Robert Schumann’s Minnespiel, Op. 101, a set of eight songs set to the poetry of Rückert. Many of these songs were written for his love Clara Wieck, to whom he was married later on in life. This set includes five songs with solos: "Meine Töne still und heiter" (My Soft Joyous Singing), sung by David Wiehle; "Liebster, deine Worte stehlen" (Dearest, Your Words are Stealing), sung by Johanna O’Dell; "Ich bin dein Baum, O Gärtner" (I am Your Tree, O Gardener), sung by Carol Ingbretsen; "Mein schöner Stern" (My Lovely Star), sung by Rob Maddrey; and "O Freund, mein Schirm, mein Schutz" (Truly as the Sun Shines) sung by Jennifer Seiger. These eight poetic melodies showed a passionate love for a woman and the soloists and chamber choir captured the essence.
The second half was less traditional with songs by Billy Joel and Elton John. There was a delicate balance between upbeat and soft, rich melodies. The group's a cappella and ensemble works were equally polished. Some of the works included Joel's Lullaby ("Goodnight, My Angel") and "The Longest Time," featuring the entire tenor section, and John's "Can You feel the Love Tonight?" and "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." The Chamber Choir ended the second part of the concert with "Everybody Has a Dream," featuring soloist Jenny Bennett. She had a lovely soulful approach to this song and had the audience grooving and singing along. The Chamber Choir's wonderful program of music resulted in a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.