Kathleen Franz' Christmas Recital

The announcement read "A seasonal concert." We asked and were told nothing of the repertory. We knew that Charles Woodward would be at the piano. Eventually we had the correct time and location of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Old Town Portsmouth. As we entered the sanctuary in the dim light, the stained glass windows were jewels illuminated by the winter sun. The space was open and large with a cathedral-like resonance.

John Franz handed us a program - blue paper tied with a white ribbon. On the cover was an illustration of the holy family with a delicate angel looking on. Now seated, we turned the page and there was a description of a rare gift: a Christmas recital with four songs by Hugo Wolf and others by Bach, Lee Hoiby, Samuel Barber, and the list went on from there. We have so much music at Christmas, but a recital of art songs is rare.

We sat expectantly. Kathleen Franz appeared looking serene and lovely followed by Charles Woodward and Lance Puckett ,carrying his flute. Veni, Veni Emmanuel (Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel) began and we were suddenly enveloped in this glorious sound enhanced by the ambience of the space.

Songs by Hugo Wolf on the theme of the Christ child and his mother Mary came next. Wandre, Maria encourages Mary whose strength is failing to struggle on to Bethlehem where she will rest well. Schlafendes Jesuskind (The Sleeping Infant Jesus) was followed by Die Ihr Schwebet (Ye who hover over these palms through the night in the wind, ye holy angels, calm the treetops! My child slumbers). This gentle lullaby-like song was followed by Ach, des Knaben Augen (Ah, the boy's eyes look so serene and beautiful) which closed the set. The collaboration of the pianist and singer was seamless.

From Magnificat by Bach, Kathleen sang Et Exultavit Spiritus Meus (And My Spirit Hath Rejoiced). After the intermission Charles Woodward returned alone and performed Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G Major, Book One, with a firm touch that brought the music to life.

When Kathleen returned she sang Away in a Manger written by W.J. Kirkpatrick and arranged by Jake Heggie, The Lamb by Lee Hoiby and Slumber Song of the Madonna by Samuel Barber.

Spring 2000 was the last time we had heard Kathleen in recital. Since then, it seems to me, that the depth of feeling conveyed in her interpretation has deepened. She is slimmer and shows a new vitality and joy on stage and off. She has added notes to the top of her range. Kathleen has worked hard and it shows.

The closing set was Sweet Little Boy Jesus by John Jacob Niles, Some Children See Him by Alfred Burt, and Mary's Little Boy Child by Jester Hairston. After an enthusiastic response from the audience, we were treated to an encore piece Jesus Rest Your Head.

After the recital we visited with Kathleen and Chuck who introduced us to the internationally know mezzo-soprano Robyn Redmond, with whom Kathleen has been studying.

A Christmas Wrap-Up 2001

       December 16. Our friend Lorraine Bell made us aware of a Messiah Sing at the First Baptist Church of Hampton where she was to be the soprano soloist. She was joined by mezzo-soprano Merri Hanson King, who sang with a limpid lovely tone that warmed the heart; bass Royzell L. Dillard who has a powerful voice and ornaments Handel's lines expertly, and tenor Jason Andrew Dungee, a senior at Hampton University. This was his first professional classical concert according to Lorraine, his vocal teacher. His potential as a classical singer is enormous. He has a sweet sound and much power. Dr. Effie T. Gardner conducted and Carl G. Harris was the organist.

       This Messiah Sing was structured differently than the one at the Virginia Beach Pavilion on December 23rd. Here, the church choir invited audience members to join them and provided scores. We chose to listen. The choir was balanced, with tenor and bass singers in abundance. In Virginia Beach we never have enough tenors to achieve balance since the choruses are sung only by the audience, but the sopranos do a stunning job year after year. What we lacked in vocal prowess we made up for in community spirit and camaraderie. Merri Hanson King, who reprised the mezzo role, and soprano Charlene Merchant turned in fine performances. The music director and conductor was the ebullient David S. Kunkle and Mark Hudgins was Chorus Master.

       More music by Handel, the Coronations Anthems , was on the Cantata Chorus' program we heard at Eastern Shore Chapel in Virginia Beach, where Bryan T. Mittnaul, the guest conductor, is Director of Music. Tom Marshall was organist. This program also included Magnificat by J.S. Bach. On Saturday evening we heard the Bach Magnificat once again, done by the Governors School for the Arts Department of Vocal Music as part of their "A Winter Concert". The power, control and beauty of several students in solo parts was a treat and the chorus, conducted by Robert Brown, sounded crisp and precise. It was a full program, with a staged Amahl and the Night Visitors conducted and directed by Alan Fischer, who does an excellent job with these enthusiastic and surprisingly accomplished young singers.

       The third offering on the program was Four Vocal Pieces by the Advanced Vocal Ensemble led by Dr. Lee Tepley. It was beautiful. We saw Dr. Tepley conduct again at the ODU Madrigal Banquet. It was staged in the atrium of the Diehn Fine Arts Center with tables laid with food of the British Isles. Tradtional Christmas songs done as madrigals were fresh and interesting, especially because of the clear, exciting voices of college students.

       And then there was Dr. Tepley once again conducting The Schola Cantorum in their holiday program Baroque Pearls, including music by Monteverdi, Schütz, Purcell, Telemann, Buxtehude, J.S. Bach and a Russian Orthodox piece by Vasily P. Titov. Thanks to Mary Ann Malloy for encouraging us to attend this concert and the Madrigal Banquet.

       Christmas Eve found us once again on the road to hear one of our favorite singers, Billye Brown Youmans singing O Holy Night by Adolphe Adam at Great Bridge Presbyterian Church. She sang all three verses and it was glorious. So many gifts, so many gifted performers. We feel blessed.

A Holiday Wrap-up 2002

      Christmas is a time of music. Donning my red blazer we went forth to enjoy the pleasures of the holiday season.

      In November Virginia Opera brought the community A Christmas Carol, an opera by Thea Musgrave. With a modern musical language, this holiday classic was effectively staged, though by the last act I longed for a bit of bel canto bravado to celebrate Scrooge's change of heart.

      Sing We Noël, a new Christmas cantata by John Dixon with the composer at the organ on December 8, 2002 was a hit. Using French noëls, some dating back to medieval times, John Dixon's update brought a fresh sound to this music, some familiar and some new to this listener. The choir, directed by Valetta Fellenbaum, was accompanied by organ, oboe, harp, flute and handbells. This piece, using a church choir to full advantage, gave the audience at Providence Presbyterian an experience of spirited and lovely music.

A High Point of the Holiday Season

      On Sunday, December 15, the Governor's School for the Arts gave a concert of classical vocal music. The program opened with the Advanced Vocal Ensemble, directed by Dr.Lee Tepley, singing six songs, three from Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols. The singers, Eboni Amos, Jessica Buckman, Rosemarie Stephens-Booker, Bethany Wherry, Crystal Williams and Rae Wynn-Grant, created a coordinated, powerful and beautiful musical sound, a capella, with clear, pure tones. These young woman joined the full choir to sing the Handel's Messiah and sing they did. All were soloists for at least one of the two performances, as were Michael Haler, Martin Lonart, Ryan Green, Karen Owens, Judy Bowers, Anna Ashby, Ashly Burroughs and Jeffrey Soto.

      We sat in the balcony of Norfolk's Larchmont United Methodist Church, facing the large pipes of the organ, well played by Michael Regan. In this high-ceilinged setting the reverberation of the chorus was stunning for its power, beauty and glory of sound. The exuberance of these 40 young people is seldom matched.

      To mark the official beginning of the faith-based community's celebration of Christmas at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Norfolk, Charles Woodward, the new music director, sent us an invitation to attend A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, on Sunday, December 22, 2002. Tom Marshall was the very able organist. The choir was outstanding, with most of the singers from the congregation. With the visiting singers, this choir looked and sounded a lot like the Virginia Chorale of a few seasons ago.

      The soloists were Charlene Merchant, Michael Dailey and Lisa Relaford Coston. In the song Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day, the organ was joined by drums played by Rob Cross and tambourine played by Thomas Elmo Bishop III. The readers were community leaders. It was a very impressive service with wonderful music. St.Paul's was founded in 1637 and the present building was completed in 1739, making it the oldest structure in Norfolk.

      The Virginia Beach Symphony's community Messiah Singalong on December 23, was the best ever. With about one third of the group new participants there was a different energy and a great sense of excitement. The soloists were an exceptionally talented group of singers: soprano Agnes Mobley-Wynne, contralto Kim Rouke, tenor Michael Dailey and baritone Tod Fitzpatrick. This was the 20th year of this free concert led by the fine and enthusiastic conductor David Kunkle. The chorus master for the audience was the able Mark Hudgins. It was a grand experience and a great beginning for a lovely Christmas.

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