Springtime in Paris with Leigheas


Artistic Director Agnes Mobley-Wynne
Leads Schola Cantorum in Romancing the Song!
Old Donation Episcopal Church , January 31, 2015
Review by John Campbell

With free admission and donations greatly appreciated, Schola Cantorum of Virginia delivered a concert of songs by Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin—both classic and jazzy—and from on and off Broadway.

The program opened with a solo by Bob Balcom—Try to Remember from the off-Broadway show The Fastasticks (The world’s longest running musical: May 3, 1960 – January 13, 2002) with Ms. Mobley-Wynne at the piano. In a conversational tone and with clear diction, the singer moved freely about as he sang. The second song, Much More, also from The Fantasticks, lyrics Tom Jones, music Harvey Schmidt, was sung by Sarah Goughour dressed in black shirt and pants with suspenders and a glittery bowtie in a sparkling, boyish high soprano, dreaming out loud about all the things she wished to do.

Choral composer Jay Althouse arranged the three Cole Porter songs for chorus: You Do Something to Me, Night and Day and Just One of Those Things. As the lyrics say, it was “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings." A male quartet—Joseph Kasper and Joe Browne – tenors and Balcom and Leif King – basses, sang I Want a Girl (“Just like the girl”), popular since it was written in 1911.

A trio bursting with energy and fun, Katherine Wachter, Leigh Anne Bowling and Mary Ransone, sang Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy - made famous by the Andrews Sisters. This was followed by the entire ensemble singing a Gershwin Medley, also arranged by Althouse. There was great group energy in Nice Work if You Can Get It, touching vulnerability in Someone to Watch Over Me and in I Got Rhythm there were single solo lines by several singers.

Agnes Mobley-Wynne turned to face the audience and did her own star turn in the comedic By Strauss (Johann, of course) with some spectacular high soprano notes in this novelty song by George and Ira Gershwin. Next we heard an a cappella Skylark (music Hoagy Carmichael, lyrics Johnny Mercer) arranged by alto Pam Getty and sung by Leigh Anne Bowling, Katherine Wachter, Mary Ransone and Getty. There was challenging ensemble singing with open-ended tones that gave a sense of risky excitement.

Baritone soloist Leif King sang If Ever I Would Leave You from Camelot (Lerner and Loewe) with a lovely, deep sound. The men were dressed in tuxes with untied bowties that gave them a raffish look. With a motherly mezzo sound, Pam Getty addressed Joe and Jessica Kasper standing nearby with Hello Young Lovers from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. In turn, the Kaspers took center stage and sang They Were You from the Fastasticks, she in a sweet, high voice and he in a strong tenor. They hugged standing side-by-side to take their bow.

Everyone was invited to sing (with song sheet included in the program) You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel. We all left with a smile.

In a season dedicated to Lee Teply, who directed Schola Cantorum from 2000-2008, the repertory was a departure from Lee’s usual programming of a 400 year span of classical choral music. But with a capacity audience and the high-spirited avocational singers who styled the songs in a refined way, I hope we honored his memory on this fun-filled, cold winter evening.

Schola Cantorum’s Springtime in Paris with Leigheas
Old Donation Episcopal Church, June 7, 2015
Review by John Campbell

Leigheas is an instrumental ensemble that includes Adam Gicz, accordion; Annie Gilstrap, flute; Jay Taylor, guitar and penny whistle; Jim Edwards, violin. The group joined the vocalists of Schola Cantorum in a program of popular French music from the mid-20th century. “Imagine yourself at a sidewalk café in the spring…a lilting melody, an accordion playing…ah! Paris!” as Artistic Director Agnes Mobley-Wynne introduced the program.

Things got off to a sparkling start with an accordion solo of Under Paris Skies (Brun, Gannon, Giraud) followed by baritone Leif King accompanied by Jay Taylor’s guitar singing the Ned Rorem song Early in the Morning. The poem is by Robert Hillyer and speaks of early morning on a lovely summer day at an outdoor café and concludes with the line “I was a lover and in Paradise to stay…” thus setting the tone for the early evening concert.

Music sung by musical luminaries of this bygone era included La Vie en Rose (Life in Rosy Hues), the love song made famous by Edith Piaf and here sung by soprano Karen Wachter. Jacques Brel’s Chanson des Vieux Amants (Song of Old Lovers) was sung by a young couple—Jessica and Joseph Kasper. Their dialogue tells the story of their stormy life, their love for each other, their other lovers—”You lost your taste for water (hygiene or drink?), I lost mine for seduction.” Compromise and the reality of growing old together is all there in the text.

A material girl who chooses a wealthy husband over true love in Nicolette from Trois Chansons by Maurice Ravel, was sung by Schola Cantorum. The ensemble alone also sang Colette, the story of a happy shepherd, a giddy lover who shares his honest and sentimental desire and misgivings that Colette may not choose him. Late in the program Schola sang Alouette (The Lark) the bird that heralds the morning—the time when lovers must part.

We heard two works by the most French of composers, Jacques Offenbach. Barcarolle (originally a Venetian gondolier’s song) from Tales of Hoffman was sung as a duet by soprano Sarah Goughnour and alto Elizabeth Taylor. Ms. Goughnour’s secure high-notes and Ms. Taylor’s caressing tone with Mr. Taylor’s guitar accompaniment were exquisite. Much later Leigheas’ instrumental Can-Can closed the program. As the chorus left the sanctuary for a meet and greet the group played on.

Continuing the mood of café music, Moulin Rouge Medley, with tunes by George Auric, Bruno Coquatrix and Edmund Goulding, was played by Leigheas followed by La Mer (The Sea) featuring baritone Bob Balcom accompanied by accordion. Leigheas played Musette Waltz by Willy Berking and two traditional klezmer tunes Zemer Atik and Nacht in Gan Eden, followed by Lilli Marlene/Louise (Norbert Schultze and Richard Whiting).

As crooner, tenor Jay Taylor set his instruments aside and graced us with two vocals: Je Vous Aime, which featured accordion solos between verses as the singers waltzed with a partner and La Romance de Paris by Trenet and Chauliac. Famous French singer/composer Charles Trenet’s song of a weekend romance and the sadness when it is over is one of his over 1000 songs. Trenet was a popular singer in the late 20s to 50s who sang only his own compositions, many of them poetic and personal and set to American swing rhythms.

Ms. Mobley-Wynne offered a tribute to long-term member of Schola Cantorum, Cathy Marle-Moberg, who died recently. Also, because the scheduled soprano could not attend, Ms. Mobley-Wynne sang Erik Satie’s Je te Veux (I want you). The composer uses vocal slides and slurs to capture the sense of popular French love songs. With hand gestures, vocal power and persuasion she portrayed a woman so-in-love that she agreed to become the lover’s mistress “entwined forever, burning with the same fire, in dreams of love, we will share our two souls.”

Paris, indeed!

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