Lorraine Bell Sings in Ogden Hall

      The newly refurbished, historic Ogden Hall on the Hampton University campus was the venue for a fine recital on February 5, 2006 titled A Vocal Delight. It was our first visit to Ogden Hall since it reopened in September. Happily, I can report that the warm, lively acoustics have not been compromised in this hall that so impressed Thomas Hampson a few years ago that he expressed his " thanks for allowing me to sing here." The original seats have new upholstered backs and seats and the beautiful hardwood floor gleams. The colors are subtle except for the beautiful medium blue stage curtains that compliment the original blue, decorative tile work on the walls.

      This was to have been a dual recital; mezzo-soprano Lisa Relaford Coston and soprano Lorraine McFadden Bell designed a program concentrating on songs that are performed by students. These experienced professionals put together a program to inspire students and listeners alike. By Tuesday of the week of the concert it was apparent that Ms. Coston would not be well enough to perform, at which point Ms. Bell started adding songs so that she was ready with a complete solo recital.

      It was an old-fashioned, familiar format, opening with Italian songs, followed by a Schubert set , a French set which concluded after intermission, a set featuring American women composers and concluding with four concert spirituals.

      After opening songs by Domenico Scarlatti (1685 -1757) and Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 -1725), Mrs. Bell sang Il mio bel foco by Benedetto Marcello (1686 -1739). Translated as My Beautiful Fire, this passionate, romantic song calls for great drama from the singer and pianist, Leslie Neal Douglas. The Schubert that followed An Die Musik (To Music) and especially Gretchen am Spinnrade (Margaret at the Spinning Wheel) continued the passionate intensity of interpretation. When she sang the line "his kiss" my mind jumped to that scene in Brokeback Mountain with that most passionate screen kiss.

      We heard Aprés un rève by Gabriel Fauré (1845 -1924). Next came Eva Dell'Acqua's (1860 -1930) J'ai vu passer l'hirondelle (I saw the swallow pass), also known as Villanelle, whose soaring musical line is enthralling.

      After intermission the French set continued with Pièce en form de Habanera by Maurice Ravel (1875 -1937) which has a certain sadness. In Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, the singer presented this showpiece vocalise with an intimate and gentle understatement that was very effective, accompanied by a relaxed Robin Welch on guitar. Though a vocalise, this piece is a setting of very passionate poetry that speaks of a rosy night sky - sad hearts are at last at peace, the birds have ceased their mournful cries, the sea reflects the moonlight as silver and wakes the soul to a dreamy wonder.

      Ms. Bell was especially effective in the songs by American women composers. Elinor Remick Warren's (1900-1991) song Heather, was written in 1942, the year I was born. The text is about the soul being like a seabird longing to see heaven - "a land of my kinsmen far over the sea." On Warren's website, www.elinorremickwarren.com, there is a picture of her with Marilyn Horne. She wrote over two-hundred compositions for orchestra, chorus, chamber pieces and over one-hundred-seventy songs. She is considered an American neo-Romanticist, along the lines of Samuel Barber but hearing one song is not enough information to base an opinion on. I would like to hear more. The second song, Ah, Love, but a day! by Amy Beach (1867-1944) is part of a cycle, Three Robert Browning Songs, that is familiar since we have heard it sung live by both Frederica von Stade and Barbara Quintiliani. The song is about the anxiety of the lover concerned that the beloved will change and they will lose this glow of being in love. Mrs. Beach was the first American woman to succeed as a composer of all genres of music. As a young piano prodigy she gave her first public recital with the Boston Symphony at age seven playing Handel, Beethoven, Chopin and compositions of her own.

      In a set of classical concert spirituals composer Jacqueline Hairston's This Little Light of Mine was followed by Roy Jenning's Over My Head I Hear Music in the Air. The song opens with a cappella voice singing "over my head I hear music in the air, there must be a God somewhere." The piano enters when this statement is repeated in a series of musical variations. In Margaret Bonds' (1913 -1972) You Can Tell the World, the jazzy, inspired piano and gospel vocal line come together to create a soul-stirring experience. Moses Hogan's (1957-2003) version of Walk Together Children, continues "don't you get weary, there is a great camp meeting in the Promised Land." This brief text is repeated again and again with interesting variations in the vocals with a dancing piano accompaniment.

      Lorraine Bell's artistry came through to sustain her under the pressure of presenting a full recital in five days. Leslie Neal Douglas, at the piano, was no less impressive. These two professionals, who have collaborated for many years, shone with the polish of experience. A lovely reception followed that included some in-depth conversation with other members of Hampton University's music department.


Marques Garrett

      Having followed Lorraine Bell's student Marques L.A. Garrett's performances for several years we just had to attend his Honors Senior Recital on April 17, 2006 at Hampton University's Ogden Hall. A lyric baritone voice and a sparkling wit with a touch of mischief characterize this talented young singer and composer.

      We have heard him sing Adolphus Hailstork's Slave Song over the last three years, from his early attempts of this emotionally demanding and musically complex song to his performance on April 17. The spare piano introduction sets a somber mood. In these years Marques has grown in his ability to communicate the text and in time will grow even stronger.

      He opened with an eighteenth-century Italian love song, Per la gloria d'adorarvi followed by a selection from Handel's Messiah, Thus saith the Lord. This recitative requires real vocal power, especially to project the opening. His delivery had the proper heft and he fully shaped the musical lines in this and the aria But who may abide? with sensitivity and freshness. He was joined by soprano Jasmine Harris in Ferdinand David's Unto the hills in a baritone/soprano duet using the contrast of voices effectively. Leslie Neal Douglas, a consummate accompanist, played piano for these selections.

      In his next set we heard Mandoline, the familiar French poem by Paul Verlaine set by Gabriel Dupont (1878-1914), an opera composer who died at age 36. A fellow graduating senior, Kathryn Parks, was pianist for Der erlkönig, Schubert's emotionally wrenching song about a father's struggles to save his child's life. His performance was very convincing. With Ashley Phillips on cello and Ms. Douglas at the piano, he next sang It is enough from Mendelssohn's Elijah.

      Thrown into the mix was a charming performance of Rogers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma, with a great final "Yipee!" Two of Dvorák's Biblical Songs, Op. 99, were followed by a glittering concert version of Amazing Grace arranged by Eurydice V. Osterman and transcribed by the singer, accompanied by Dr. Carl G. Harris, Jr. at the piano and the Hampton University String Ensemble of five student players.

      The eight voices of the Marques Garrett Ensemble sang Wait 'Til I Get on My Robe, arranged by Colin Lett (b.1983) and directed by Mr. Garrett. This was a concert version of a spiritual that once was a spontaneous outpouring of emotional expression. With the String Ensemble and Ms. Parks at the piano, we heard Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho in an arrangement by Mr. Garrett (b.1984). The audience's response was spontaneous and effusive.

      We had a splendid time with this happy, spontaneous community of music makers and their teacher, Lorraine Bell, who with voice alone can move our hearts.

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