John Aler at Willett Hall, April 4, 2003

      When a friend asked about John Aler's recital I replied "Like a Cadillac on cruise control." Aler's lyric tenor voice, produced without apparent effort, moved through a varied program of songs with a sweet gentleness. His accompanist Dennis Helmrich was an equal partner, both alert and sensitive to the vocalist.

      Lee Tepley, in his insightful Virginian-Pilot review states it accurately: "His expression was based on clear presentation of the texts, in phrases that were carefully shaped with dynamic highs and lows, all sounding quite natural."

      Mr. Aler opened the program with selections from Handel's oratorio Jephtha and later sang two selections from Mendelssohn's Elija, including the beautiful tenor solo If With All Your Hearts, an expression of deep devotion to God.

      A set of German songs included Beethoven's Der Kuss and Adelaide and three selections from Schubert's cycle Die Schöne Müllerin. His natural, effortless singing in Wohin?, Danksagung an den Bach and Ungeduld was capped by the passionate intensity of the final phrase "Yours is my heart and shall be ever."

      The French set included Camille Saint-Saens' Le Bonheur est légère (Happiness is a frail thing), Reynaldo Hahn's Fêtes Galantes - a most charming song that I found far too short - and Georges Bizet's Ouvre ton coeur, with its wonderfully complex Spanish-flavored piano accompaniment. All were sung with liquid, glowing tone.

      Both halves of the concert were closed by songs from Aler's CD Songs We Forgot to Remember. Many of these so-called parlor songs were conceived of as art songs but once popularized were sung by more generic voices. Others started out as vaudeville ballads and once they became popular became standards for the recital stage. My Lovely Celia by George Munro (1680-1731) is the oldest done in a later arrangement by H. Lane Wilson. Annabell Lee is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe set by Henry Leslie, and Idabell Firestone's song If I Could Tell You (words by Madeleine Marshall) was the theme song of an early popular television program The Voice of Firestone. This song, accompanied by orchestra was sung each week by the guest artist, which included such vocal luminaries as Kirsten Flagstad , Dorothy Kirsten and Helen Traubel.

      With clear diction the program closed with Eric Coates' Bird Songs at Eventide. The Last Chord by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and ... and Until by Wilfrid Sanderson. It was all great fun.

      John Aler's mother came to hear her son perform. Rosa Aler is an Italian-American and makes her home in Baltimore. A most gracious and lovely lady, she was the guest of our friend Shirley Thompson who has spent a lifetime of singing, teaching and promoting high quality music. She and Mrs. Aler became friends while Ms. Thompson was running the opera workshop at Towson State University in Baltimore.

 

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