Billye Brown Youmans Sings Liszt

      With Charles Woodward at the piano, the Norfolk Chamber Consort's opening program included four Franz Liszt (1811-1886) songs sung by soprano Billye Brown Youmans on September 19, 2005 at Old Dominion University's Chandler Recital Hall.

      The songs required a wide range of emotional expression to communicate the text by the esteemed French writer Victor Hugo. Billye Brown Youmans brought an excitement and intensity to her interpretation that was just right. Her vocal sound is rich and powerful as Lee Teply said in his Virginian Pilot review (September 21, 2005) "Capable of subtle shadings, as in her soft final note in Oh! quand je dors." Charles Woodward at the piano is such an excellent partner with subtlety and power of his own as needed. In Enfant, si j'étais roi you hear a storm of waves in the piano illustrating the poem that speaks of the sea. In Comment, disaient-il with its saucy text, the singer's acting connected completely with the audience. S'il est un charmant gazon celebrates flowers on a green field that creates a path worthy of his love's footfalls.

      If you enjoyed the Liszt songs or missed them and want to explore this music there is a CD with lyric tenor John Aler that opens with these four songs and a dozen others on Newport Classics (NC 60028) with Daniel Blumenthal at the piano.

      The program opened with Antonin Reicha's (b.Prague, 1770; d. Paris 1836) Quintet in E-flat Major, Op.88, No.2. The first movement with its prominent bassoon played by Andrew Gott was mellow and reminiscent of Mozart. Altogether it is a happy, spirited piece that showcased the individual instruments. With Debra Cross on flute, Sherie Aguirre - oboe, F. Gerard Errante - clarinet and David Wick on horn, the sound was bright and sometimes brilliant with riotous instrumental runs at the end. This was the first time I have heard music by Reicha. The Oxford Dictionary of Music says Reicha is almost exclusively remembered for his wind quintets though he was an important teacher in the early eighteenth century in Paris, where he taught Berlioz, Liszt, Franck and Gounod and influenced the operas of Meyerbeer.

      The program was headlined by visiting pianist Ilan Rogoff playing a chamber version of Frederic Chopin's (1809-1849) Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op. 11 with string quintet with violinists Yun Zhang and Mayu Cipriano, violist Beverly Baker, cellist Michael Daniels and bassist Christopher White. The first performance of the chamber concerto was at Chopin's parents' apartment in Warsaw with his friends playing the string sections. To my ear the strings are rather a frame with the piano providing the glitz and glamour of this romantic masterpiece. It was not until the opening of the third movement, Rondo: Vivace, that I missed the orchestra. The string opening was very spare. Hearing the concerto in this small acoustically perfect hall was a revelation and Mr. Rogoff is a master at the piano.

Billye Brown Youmans Featured Singer in Poulenc Gloria

      On the second Monday in the series at Wesleyan on December 5, 2005, the College Choir and The Wesleyan Singers presented a program titled Christmas at Wesleyan with conductor David Clayton and pianist George Stone and thirty singers. Fourteen of these vocalists perform as The Wesleyan Singers and presented a delicate, precise Gloria in D. RV 589 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741). It was lovely.

      The College Choir sang Three Christmas Pieces: Star Carol, Christmas Lullaby and Jesus Child as set by John Rutter (b. 1945) and followed it with the dramatic and complex Gloria by Francis Poulenc. This demanding piece was a challenge for these young singers in setting the framework for Ms. Youman's powerful, intensely dramatic performance.

      On December 31, 2005 we had an e-mail from Ms. Youmans telling us that her voice teacher from graduate student days, Louis Nicholas (1910-2005) had died December 28. She and David Clayton studied with him at Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee. "I have carried many of his pedagogical theories into my own teaching [of voice students]. He was also a wonderful newspaper critic and gave me my very first review. He was quite generous." says Ms. Youmans, who sang in the choir for his memorial service on January 7, 2006 at Vine Street Christian Church in Nashville.

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