Nancy Engel and Paul Brown

      The rich sounds of two powerful trained voices filled the barrel-vaulted sanctuary with glorious sound that excited and overwhelmed the senses. Soprano Nancy Engel and baritone Paul Brown opened the recital with Amazing Grace arranged by Ovid Young to give full power and majesty to this favorite hymn. At the piano Oksana Lutsyshyn was a worthy partner in this grand recital.

      In the spiritual Hard Trials by Harry T. Burleigh and art songs by Brahms and Richard Strauss, Mr. Brown's rich, deep baritone sound was most pleasing. In the second part of the program he sang arias from I Pagliacci , Gounod's Faust and Tannhäuser by Wagner. The impact was overwhelming. His musicianship and years of training have honed the skills that communicated the passion and meaning of these songs.

      The program notes tell us that Mr. Brown was a gifted athlete, playing football at the University of Oklahoma where his voice teacher steered him toward opera. Later he completed his vocal studies at Indiana University with Giorgio Tozzi. His rare baritone voice is especially well-suited to difficult Puccini and Verdi roles. He is currently in Europe where he sang a concert in Hannover, Germany and is auditioning for agents and opera houses in Vienna and other cities.

      Nancy Engel sang There is a Balm in Gilead by Hall Johnson, Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck, Schafe konnen sicher weiden (Sheep may safely graze) by J.S. Bach and Come and Join the Dancing by Antonin Dvorák. Her high notes are secure and full and her diction has an amazing clarity. We could understand every word!

      Later she regaled the audience with a dazzling performance of the aria Io son l'umile ancella from Adriana Lecouvreur by Cilea and Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. As she finished the song she was joined on stage by her husband, Mr. Brown, and they performed Bess you is my woman.

      While completing her doctoral degree at Indiana University she sang Jeanne in Devils of Loudon, the Old Lady in Candide, Mrs. Gross in Turn of the Screw, and the mother in Hansel and Gretel.

      She currently has more than twenty-five roles in her repertoire. Her career has taken her to Germany, Austria and many cities in the U.S. to both opera houses and concert halls. She is also a school choral director and directs a children's choir in Danbury, Connecticut. The couple along with their daughter lives in Irvington, New York.

      Their good friend Oksana Lutsyshyn brought these talented artists to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach on August 29, 2004. They met at Indiana University School of Music where the singers were students and Ms. Lutsyshyn was a Visiting Scholar. Her Ph.D. is from Moscow State Conservatory (1991).

      Our final word: "Thanks for coming to share your voices and vocal accomplishments, but most of all your love of singing." Certainly we hope they come again soon to share their music.

Paul Brown and Nancy Engels' Songs of Hope

      I am always looking for a way to introduce my love of art song to friends and family. This new CD by Brown and Engel is excellent and the selection of religious songs may even appeal to family members who attend contemporary Christian or praise services.

      Ave Maria, with William Smiddy at the piano, and sung by the clear, beautiful soprano voice of Ms. Engel, is the only Christmas selection. Her other equally fine solo selections are Shall We Gather at the River, Balm in Gilead and On Eagle's Wings.

      The rich, flexible baritone of Mr. Brown caresses one's heart in The Eastern Gate, Will the Circle Be Un-Broken, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, So High, Ride-On King Jesus, No One Ever Cared for me Like Jesus, I Know that My Redeemer Lives and How Lovely are Thy Dwellings.

      Jeffrey Hoffman is organist for several of Mr. Brown's selections and for the glorious sound of their duets: Let Us Break Bread Together, I Know that My Redeemer Lives, and Amazing Grace. The sound is that of a large church, open and natural, which showcases the voices and instruments effectively.

      To order Songs of Hope, send $20 (includes postage) to: Nancy Engel, 60 East Sunnyside Lane, Irvington, NY 10533 or email Br9Ka@aol.com.


Barbara Chapman and Debra Wendells Cross present
Wondrous Love

      The soaring flute of Debra Wendells Cross and the soothing tones of Barbara Chapman's harp blended to fill Prince of Peace Lutheran Church with rich music on Sunday, September 26, 2004.

      Opening with Andante by W.A. Mozart and five American Hymns which included Amazing Grace; God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens and Wondrous Love (used as the program title), the music is not without excitement but the overall effect is to sooth the listener with warm enfolding melody.

      There were Swedish Hymns with my favorite tune being The Holy Wings, presented with a bit of biography of the performers, both of whom have Lutheran backgrounds. This duo is popular throughout Southeastern Virginia. Both are principal musicians with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and are featured every spring with the Virginia Arts Festival.

      Three songs by women composers featured instrumental colors that are not usually heard: Mosaic by Andrea Stern, Simple Things by Kenya Tillery and Sicilianna by Maria Theresia von Paradis.

      The concert was a fund raiser for the Lutheran Council of Tidewater. The exciting news for folks who would like to hear the program again and again is a CD Wondrous Love with profits going to the Council. To order by mail go to Virginia Chamber Players website www.virginiachamberplayers.com and click on Recordings or phone the Lutheran Council of Tidewater at 757-623-0155.


Emily Stauch and Oksana Lutsyshyn in Recital

      From the well-executed trills in Alleluia from Mozart's Exsultate, Jubilate to the encore piece Summertime by Gershwin, this was a most enjoyable recital at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach on November 14, 2004. With the piano closed in this lively performing space, a seamless collaboration by Emily Stauch and Oksana Lutsyshyn offered Franz Schubert's art songs: Die junge Nonne (The young nun), with its huge energy and smooth high notes; Nacht und Träume (Night and dreams), and Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the spinning wheel), the earliest of Schubert's popular songs.

      Gustav Mahler's Frülingsmorgen (Spring morning) is a sweet little gem with the flutter of birds wings in flight in the accompaniment. It was followed by a piano solo performance of Vingt Regards sur L'Enfant-Jésus by Olivier Messiaen. This is a musical journey of the baby Jesus from the Annunciation onward and demands virtuosic playing to be effective. It was beautifully executed. The three songs of Frances Poulenc's Métamorphoses offered us an elegant vocal performance with clearly sung words that are so important in French mélodies.

      Three arrangements by Harry T. Burleigh followed, Balm in Gilead, with vocal variations that moved beyond this well-known hymn tune; Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, so caressing that it was almost a vocalise and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, with its exuberant high-note repeat of the phrase "a long way from home."

      Once again we had a piano solo. Local composer Michael Hassell's arrangement of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts makes the listener search for the tune in a complex arrangement; finally it breaks through, only to be ornamented once again.

      The rest of the recital was devoted to a conversational E Susanna non vien!...Dove sono from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro with the rich and full beauty of the voice demonstrating the confidence of a wife who is still very much in love with her husband; Addio, del passato from La Traviata by Verdi, a song that can break your heart for pity for one dying so young. She closed with the naughty song of a young woman who is very much in touch with her sex appeal in Quando me'n vo' (When I go out) from Puccini's La Bohčme. Wonderful!

      I want to offer a special thank you to the performers, to Pastor Douglas Rosenvinge, to Director of Music Oksana Lutsyshyn and to the congregation of Prince of Peace Lutheran for the continuing series of excellent musical events, often generously accommodating performers on short notice into the pre-planned schedule, as well as the friendly, not to mention tasty, receptions.

Eastern Virginia Brass Trio at Prince of Peace Lutheran

      In Virginia Beach on April 3, 2005, Marlene Ford, horn, Robert Ford, trombone and Lawrence Clemens, trumpet, presented an eclectic program of brass concert music.

      Music by Vaclav Nelhybel (1919-1996) was the great discovery of this program. Born in Czechoslovakia, he studied music in Prague (1938-1942) and later in Fribourg, Switzerland. In 1950 he became the first musical director of Radio Free Europe, living in Munich, Germany until he came to the United States, where he became a citizen in 1962. He had a long career here as conductor, teacher, composer and world lecturer. Over 400 of his works were published during his lifetime and many of the remaining 200 works are in process of publication.

      Though most of his works were composed for professionals, he enjoyed making original, challenging pieces for students and delighted in making music with young players. We heard Trio for Brass and from the beginning it was apparent that we were hearing music by a master of instrumental writing. It was polished, superb craftsmanship in which he chose from among existing musical systems and made them his own.

      The theme in the first movement, which Ms. Ford suggested sounds like a sailor tune, is titled Leggiero marcato, indicating that each note is to be emphasized, but lightly. This idea becomes a musical pointillism in the second movement constructed of dots of sound. The composer achieved this effect by manipulating how notes are approached: hard, soft, hard that backs off, etc. Dissonance adds excitement. At times it sounds like the musical line is coming apart, only to resolve into a lyrical passage.

      The slippery sound of the slide-trombone opens the third movement, a series of variations on the opening theme (titled 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 3E) which may have been from Moravian folk tunes, since Nelhybel 's doctoral dissertation was on the subject. One variation is Sousa-esque trumpet blasts, another is somber and the final one reminds one of the Saber Dance. This was intriguing, listenable music, all well-played by these three talented musicians.

      The program opened with A Philharmonic Fanfare by Eric Ewazen. Ms. Ford, who gave an introduction to the music after it was performed, explained that she does not have the date it was composed or any other facts. An email to the composer elicited the message that he would get back to her when he had time!

      The second piece was Petite Suite by Edwin Avril from New Jersey where he composes for brass and accordion players. The first movement was serious with a quick tempo, the second, Andante, was slow and lyrical even though it was written on a twelve-tone row and has a certain angularity. The last movement was fast with a happy feeling. Overall the piece was a trumpet solo with horn and trombone embellishments.

      We learned from trombonist Robert Ford's introduction that Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone displays his humor based on music hall, vaudeville and jazz models. Poulenc's sense of humor certainly tripped-up this audience. We were told that this three movement piece had a page turn, and thus a pause in the middle of the second movement. The audience wrongly concluded that the piece had ended, with the third movement still to come. This was the most obvious humor in a well constructed, happy piece. In my mind's eye the music created a scene of a train rolling along on a sunny day with happy people on board, The lyrical middle movement was followed by a brief, pithy final dance, a Rondeau.

      Lowell Shaw's Pocket Full of Wry, with its big band sound and rollicking tempo and Bethena by Scott Joplin, arranged for brass trio by Holcombe, rounded out this fine program. The Joplin piece is cool, slowed down as if ragtime plays on a radio in the house as a marching band goes by out front only to fade into a soft ending.


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