Glenn Hersch Sings with Oksana Lutsyshyn at the Piano

      When Glenn Hersch gives a recital it is a celebration of his life in music shared with his audience. His desire to communicate the songs he loves provides a rich experience. Beginning at age four in the Angel Choir at Old Trinity Lutheran Church in Carthage, Illinois and for some sixty years since, he has been singing. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Music, a Masters Degree in Music Education and has worked toward a Doctorate at three universities. Currently singing is his hobby.

      His recital, on September 25, 2005 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, was drawn from his musical experience. Though he sings in the chorus of Virginia Opera and is in the current production of Romeo and Juliet, he includes only one aria in the program - the tenor aria E lucevan le stelle from Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. But we must not assume that he is a tenor since he opened the program with three French art songs by Chausson, Duparc and Fauré as a baritone. His interpretation was honest, straightforward and with good diction.

      Continuing as a baritone, he and Ms. Lutsyshyn gave us five songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) from his cycle of nine entitled Songs of Travel: The Vagabond, Let Beauty Awake, Whither Must I Wander?, The Roadside Fire, and I Have Trod the Upward and the Downward Path. This last song was discovered by Vaughan Williams' wife, Ursula Vaughan Williams, after his death. According to Carol Kimball in her book Song, " This short song unifies the work thematically; it begins with a quotation from The Vagabond and quotes material from Whither Must I Wander; during the song and in the coda, material from Bright Is the Ring of Words is heard; and the song ends with the tramping rhythm of The Vagabond." The text is by Robert Louis Stevenson.

      In the third set we heard Deep River were Mr. Hersch's rich bass notes touched my heart and contrasted with his tenor sound elsewhere in the song. Singing in accurate dialect we heard Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child. Although unattributed, I suspect the arrangements of both songs are by Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949). The beautifully rounded tones in Old Man River from Showboat by Jerome Kern ended this set.

      After intermission we had a feast of music that Glenn learned during his three seasons with the St. Louis Municipal Opera where he performed in twenty-six Broadway shows. The three selections from My Fair Lady were familiar and allowed us to revel in the richness and power of his voice, without the British fussiness so often heard in the theater. In Oklahoma he gave us one familiar song, Surrey with the Fringe on Top and the unfamiliar Lonely Room and Out of My Dreams.

      Mr. Hersch explained that he learned the three songs from South Pacific while stationed in Heidleberg, Germany with the Seventh Army Soldiers Chorus. The closing set was from Carousel. He said he wanted to grow up to play Billy Bigelow in this, his favorite musical, but was not tall enough to do the stage role. The Highest Judge of All, with its romp of a piano accompaniment is not familiar nor is When the Children are Asleep but are interesting songs. The set closed with You'll Never Walk Alone. The audience was with him every step of the way. As an encore he sang the lovely If I Loved You, also from Carousel.

      In earlier years Glenn won the Metropolitan Opera Auditions once in St. Louis and later in Denver, but on this night he won the hearts of his enthusiastic audience.

      Let me close by encouraging our readers to come to the musical series at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach. This was the opening program of the season. The freewill offering goes to the performers and you will be among musical friends: pastor Doug Rosenvinge and the congregation are friendly and enthusiastic and provide a tasty reception following the concert. Music Director Oksana Lutsyshyn is one of Tidewater's most talented and active musicians. Soprano Agnes Fuller Wynne in recital there on October 30 will be reviewed in the next issue. Watch our calendar for future programs. Be there!


Agnes Mobley Wynne with Friends Sings Bach

      With the first phrase of the violin that immediate Bachian joy jumps out at you. The soprano soon joins the violin and together and then apart they weave a beautiful tapestry of sound, always well-supported by piano as continuo instrument. This piece concluded the recital but left the most intense impression of the evening.

      To celebrate Reformation Day, October 30, 2005, in the Lutheran church calendar at Prince of Peace, Ms. Wynne gave a recital on the theme of praise in the face of adversity titled Songs of Joy and Devotion. She chose more formal settings of Hebrew Scriptures for the opening songs: Kaddisch by Maurice Ravel from Deux Melodies Hebraiques, Canadian composer Ben Steinberg's (b.1930) La Kol Z'Man (To everything there is a season) and Adon Olam (Lord of the World), a setting with flute and piano accompaniment of an eleventh-century Spanish text of a God who has existed forever but now reveals himself as a very personal God. Lisa Sinibaldi was the flutist, and Oksana Lutsyshyn was at the piano throughout the recital.

      With mezzo-soprano April Lessard, our featured vocalist wove the vocal strands of Sholom Rav (Evening Prayer) by Baltimore composer Helen Greenberg (b.1939) into a ravishingly beautiful experience.

      The next three selections, for piano and voice, were about striving for some joy in the face of adversity. Isadore Freed's (1900-1960) Why art thou cast down, my soul?, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) The bird's song with the Twenty-third Psalm as text and The Rain is Over by Bonia Shur (b.1923), a spring song that Ms. Wynne chose to celebrate the end of hurricane season.

      For her grand finale Agnes Wynne chose two secular cantatas by J.S. Bach (1685-1750). Cantata BWV 204 #4 Ich bin in mir vergnügt (Let what the wide world values leave my soul in peace; Heaven constantly dwells with him who in poverty can be rich.) Philip Spitta, in his three-volume book Johann Sebastian Bach suggests that Bach, the family man, wrote this cantata for his wife, soprano Anna Magdalena, in this piece that Spitta evaluates as "music pleasing and suitable to the words." Bach prized the tranquil repose of his family life and celebrates this Lutheran virtue. Ms. Wynne, who grew up in a Lutheran church, captured the spirit of the words, greatly enhanced by the accurate and beautifully phrased violin playing of Natalia Kuznetsova.

      Her first Bach selection, Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus (The King of the Winds) was written for the birthday of a philosophy professor at the University in Leipzig in 1725. Though Bach was Kantor at Tomaskirche, he was called on for secular music for the city of Leipzig in his role as civic director of music. Such a different world than ours where song has a childlike text. The fierce winds of fall and winter wish to burst forth. But Zephyrus, the summer wind, pleads with Aeolus to intervene - after all, the birthday is August 3. Speaking the name of Professor August Müller does the trick and sweet summer breezes prevail, with "this musky-flavored kiss." Spitta's comments on this aria of Zephyrus" with its softly breathing figures and tender, charming coloring [is that it is] one of Bach's loveliest pictures of nature." With a voice that sings a high, ethereal vocal line with a golden glow, Ms. Wynne created great excitement. The triumphant ending is wrapped by beautiful playing by violinist Natalia Kuznetsova.

      There is a CD of Bach cantata selections, The Bach Album (DG 173670), featuring soprano Kathleen Battle and violinist Itzhak Perlman, but no recording, as good as this one is, can compare with this excellent live performance.


Baritone Frederick Jackson and Pianist Oksana Lutsyshyn

      For three months Oksana had been telling us about Frederick Jackson of Atlanta who was in Hampton Roads for his second season with Virginia Opera's Spectrum Artist Program. She was excited about his powerful, exciting voice and his expressive singing. On April 23, 2006 at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, where she is Director of Music, we did meet and hear him give a deeply convincing recital. In the opening set, music by Handel, his commanding performance and ringing tone was exciting in Ai tra i ceppi and Arm, arm ye brave from Judas Maccabaeus. Equally impressive was the soothing opening lines of Ombra mai fu from Xerxes. His trills were well-formed and secure.

      In six songs from Robert Schumann's Liederkreis, op. 39, Mr. Jackson demonstrated his total emotional commitment to the text, capturing the essential feeling of each song. Text sheets were furnished. My notes for Mondnacht (Moon night) say the sound comes through his whole body as he sang of the sparkling, clear night. The sky had quietly kissed the earth and our hero's soul stretches its wings and flies over the land as if flying home.

      Wehmut (Sometimes I can sing) seems to be a song of joy and yet it contains a deep sorrow. When he sang the word "tears" they were in his voice and running down his face by the end of the song. In contrast, Frulingsnacht (Above the garden and across the sky) spring has come and the singer's exuberance leaves both him and his audience with a wide smile. Perhaps most impressive of all was Waldesgesprach (Conversation in the woods) with a text about being in the cold forest at night, meeting the witch and knowing you will never again leave the wood. Such intensity!

      After intermission we heard three Shakespeare texts set by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) Come away, come away death, Who is Sylvia? and It was a lover and his lass. Here the accompaniment by Ms. Lutsyshyn reminded me that she is such an accomplished partner in making all this music come alive.

      The closing set was a selection of hymns and spirituals set by Moses Hogan (1957-2003). This was the first time I had heard an entire set of songs by Hogan sung together. There is totally new music in the piano, more drama in the slow vocal lines and powerful showy endings. Some of the rough edges of settings by others are polished away leaving a smoother sound but sometimes with less emotional validity of text. Let us break bread together has always asked for a lyric baritone to bring it alive and here it happened. Mr. Jackson used vernacular pronunciation throughout the set. In Walk together children there is dancing in the piano as he sings of walking, singing and shouting his way to the meeting in the promised land. This was a capstone for a really fine recital. Thank you Frederick. Especially thank you Oksana for bringing the community at least six quality programs each year.


Dianne Barton, Eduardo Castro and Oksana Lutsyshyn in Recital

      Once again, June 18, 2006, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach hosted an early evening program of vocal music. The first rows were reserved and Pastor Douglas Rosenvinge explained as he introduced the program that sitting close to the performers was unnecessary. We soon understood his point since both singers have great vocal power and a relaxed, confident stage presence. The pianist, playing the role of orchestra, has many notes in a program of opera arias and Broadway show tunes.

      Soprano Dianne Barton was in the Virginia Opera Spectrum Artist Program this past season performing the leading role in Oh Freedom, an outreach program for schools. She will be busy performing in the 2006-2007 opera season with leading roles in Philadelphia, New York and Houston.

      Born in Peru, bass-baritone Eduardo Castro has studied and performed in the Washington, D.C. area since 1991. He will be heard in several opera productions in Philadelphia and Atlantic City next season. He is a student of tenor Gianni Bavaglio who teaches in Rome.

      The singers took turn about. Ms. Barton opened with Dich theure Halle (Tannhäuser) and Du bist der Lenz (Die Walküre). Her luscious voice overpowered the space with the vocal fireworks of Wagner. Mr. Castro's pleasing tone in Bellini's Vi Ravviso from La Sonnambula with a deep bass lyrical ending and Non piu andrai form Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro promised us a fine recital. He used hand and finger gestures to create the character. The powerful showpieces continued with Ms. Barton creating a sense of mystery in Suicidio from Ponchielli's La Gioconda and Pace mio Dio from La Forza del Destino by Verdi. Soft notes gave way to swells of intensity and the grandeur of this music was well served.

      To close the first half of the program Mr. Castro sang an accurate La calunnia from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and the pianist was outstanding in this challenging patter song with its demand for speed and accuracy for both partners. What was missing was the vocal charm of the piece, a sense of dark mischief. In the second half he sang two art songs, Dolente imagine by Rossini and Ideale by Tosti. Though I was still impressed by the technique and power of his singing, the bass-baritone did not move my heart. My desire is to be seduced into a world created by the composer. Vocal power without nuanced singing creates a certain monotony. After developing all this fine technique the next step is learning how to place it at the service of expression. Both artists could benefit from creating more contrast of power and its opposite, repose.

      Ms. Barton offered us two pieces from American opera, Menotti's The Bride's Song from The Labyrinth and Carlisle Floyd's The Trees on the Mountains from Susannah. My favorite of her Broadway selections was Can't Help Lovin' that Man of Mine from Showboat. Here her singing felt more emotionally involved, bending lines in a jazzy way and making me believe it was her personal story.

      After other Broadway selections they capped the program with All I Ask of You from Phantom of the Opera. In conversation we learned that Ms. Barton used to be a country singer. Putting that level of emotional expression together with her powerful, accurate singing could be the key that will open many an opera house door.

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