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The Title of this concert (The Human and the Spiritual) indicates the two featured works on the program: Samuel Barber’s brief four person opera, “A Hand of Bridge” and Franz Schubert’s Mass No 5 in A flat, D. 678. Joining forces for this concert were the Concert Singers of Cary, Lawrence Speakman, Director and the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle, Lorenzo Muti, Director.
Samuel Barber’s short chamber opera, A Hand of Bridge, Op.35 was composed for the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto where it premiered in 1959. The libretto was written by Gian Carlo Menotti, Barber’s partner in life and in work.
Four friends are gathered for their evening bridge game. As the play progresses, each sings an aria expressing their inner thoughts. Sally is not thinking about much except which new hat to buy while her husband, Bill is wondering whether Sally knows about his lover Cymbeline and whether she is faithful to him. Geraldine, ignored by both her husband David and Bill, her former lover, is worried about her dying mother. Her husband, David, is bitter about his dead-end job and daydreams about what his life would be like if he were as rich as his boss. As the opera ends, he admits that it would probably not be very different.
The role of Sally was sung by Mary Gayle Green from the Music Department at Appalachian State, Geraldine was Andrea Moore from the Music Faculty at UNC-CH. Andrew Crane, Director of Choral Activities at ECU, sang the role of Bill and David was portrayed by Lawrence Speakman who usually performs with his back to the audience as Director of the Concert Singers of Cary. All four singers measured up beautifully to the challenges Barber’s interesting score posed for each of them. There was a goodly helping of jazz, some rhythmic interplay, some haunting lyricism and a delightful dose of creativity from both composer and librettist. Most folks in the audience were likely to have seen something of themself in this short card game.
Schubert worked long and hard on his Mass No 5 in A-flat, D. 678. There is a seven-year gap after the Mass No. 4 if you include the 1826 revision he made in an effort to gain a post at the Imperial Court Chapel. Alas, it was to no avail. The mass remained unpublished in his lifetime and it is unlikely that Schubert ever heard it performed. Still, he claimed it as his favorite among his six numbered masses. It is beautifully balanced in structure with extraordinary weaving together of choral, solo and instrumental parts. It contains some of Schubert’s trademark gentle lyricism as well as heroic sections where the text points in that direction. There is writing in the Credo and Sanctus that is at least fifty years ahead of its time harmonically and stylistically.
The Concert Singers of Cary delivered an excellent performance. Having been well rehearsed by their director, Speakman, and performance prepared by Muti, they demonstrated a thorough musical and emotional grasp of the score. They built amazing crescendos and whispered beautiful phrases of hope.
The soloists, though not a major part of this mass, are certainly crucial to achieving Schubert’s gorgeous tonal coloring. The Agnus Dei was especially delicious. The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle played with their usual professional skill under the baton of their long-term maestro. It was a very enjoyable concert which was repeated on Sunday on COT’s turf at the Carolina Theatre in Durham.