Kathleen Franz' Christmas Recital
The announcement read "A seasonal concert." We asked and were told
nothing of the repertory. We knew that Charles Woodward would be at
the piano. Eventually we had the correct time and location of St. Paul's
Catholic Church in Old Town Portsmouth. On Sunday, December 16, 2001, as we entered the sanctuary
in the dim light, the stained glass windows were jewels illuminated
by the winter sun. The space was open and large with a cathedral-like
John Franz handed us a program - blue paper tied with a white ribbon.
On the cover was an illustration of the holy family with a delicate
angel looking on. Now seated, we turned the page and there was a description
of a rare gift: a Christmas recital with four songs by Hugo Wolf and
others by Bach, Lee Hoiby, Samuel Barber, and the list went on from
there. We have so much music at Christmas, but a recital of art songs
We sat expectantly. Kathleen Franz appeared looking serene and lovely
followed by Charles Woodward and Lance Puckett ,carrying his flute.
Veni, Veni Emmanuel (Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel) began and we were
suddenly enveloped in this glorious sound enhanced by the ambience of
Songs by Hugo Wolf on the theme of the Christ child and his mother
Mary came next. Wandre, Maria encourages Mary whose strength
is failing to struggle on to Bethlehem where she will rest well. Schlafendes
Jesuskind (The Sleeping Infant Jesus) was followed by Die Ihr
Schwebet (Ye who hover over these palms through the night in the
wind, ye holy angels, calm the treetops! My child slumbers). This gentle
lullaby-like song was followed by Ach, des Knaben Augen (Ah,
the boy's eyes look so serene and beautiful) which closed the set. The
collaboration of the pianist and singer was seamless.
From Magnificat by Bach, Kathleen sang Et Exultavit Spiritus
Meus (And My Spirit Hath Rejoiced). After the intermission Charles
Woodward returned alone and performed Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G
Major, Book One, with a firm touch that brought the music to life.
When Kathleen returned she sang Away in a Manger written by
W.J. Kirkpatrick and arranged by Jake Heggie, The Lamb by Lee
Hoiby and Slumber Song of the Madonna by Samuel Barber.
Spring 2000 was the last time we had heard Kathleen in recital. Since
then, it seems to me, that the depth of feeling conveyed in her interpretation
has deepened. She is slimmer and shows a new vitality and joy on stage
and off. She has added notes to the top of her range. Kathleen has worked
hard and it shows.
The closing set was Sweet Little Boy Jesus by John Jacob Niles,
Some Children See Him by Alfred Burt, and Mary's Little Boy
Child by Jester Hairston. After an enthusiastic response from the
audience, we were treated to an encore piece Jesus Rest Your Head.
After the recital we visited with Kathleen and Chuck who introduced
us to the internationally know mezzo-soprano Robyn Redmond, with whom
Kathleen has been studying.
December 16. Our friend Lorraine Bell made
us aware of a Messiah Sing at the First Baptist Church of Hampton where
she was to be the soprano soloist. She was joined by mezzo-soprano Merri
Hanson King, who sang with a limpid lovely tone that warmed the heart;
bass Royzell L. Dillard who has a powerful voice and ornaments Handel's
lines expertly, and tenor Jason Andrew Dungee, a senior at Hampton University.
This was his first professional classical concert according to Lorraine,
his vocal teacher. His potential as a classical singer is enormous.
He has a sweet sound and much power. Dr. Effie T. Gardner conducted
and Carl G. Harris was the organist.
This Messiah Sing was structured differently
than the one at the Virginia Beach Pavilion on December 23rd. Here,
the church choir invited audience members to join them and provided
scores. We chose to listen. The choir was balanced, with tenor and bass
singers in abundance. In Virginia Beach we never have enough tenors
to achieve balance since the choruses are sung only by the audience,
but the sopranos do a stunning job year after year. What we lacked in
vocal prowess we made up for in community spirit and camaraderie. Merri
Hanson King, who reprised the mezzo role, and soprano Charlene Merchant
turned in fine performances. The music director and conductor was the
ebullient David S. Kunkle and Mark Hudgins was Chorus Master.
More music by Handel, the Coronations
Anthems , was on the Cantata Chorus' program we heard at Eastern
Shore Chapel in Virginia Beach, where Bryan T. Mittnaul, the guest conductor,
is Director of Music. Tom Marshall was organist. This program also included
Magnificat by J.S. Bach. On Saturday evening we heard the Bach
Magnificat once again, done by the Governors School for the Arts
Department of Vocal Music as part of their "A Winter Concert". The power,
control and beauty of several students in solo parts was a treat and
the chorus, conducted by Robert Brown, sounded crisp and precise. It
was a full program, with a staged Amahl and the Night Visitors
conducted and directed by Alan Fischer, who does an excellent job with
these enthusiastic and surprisingly accomplished young singers.
The third offering on the program was Four
Vocal Pieces by the Advanced Vocal Ensemble led by Dr. Lee Tepley. It
was beautiful. We saw Dr. Tepley conduct again at the ODU Madrigal Banquet.
It was staged in the atrium of the Diehn Fine Arts Center with tables
laid with food of the British Isles. Tradtional Christmas songs done
as madrigals were fresh and interesting, especially because of the clear,
exciting voices of college students.
And then there was Dr. Tepley once again
conducting The Schola Cantorum in their holiday program Baroque Pearls,
including music by Monteverdi, Schütz, Purcell, Telemann, Buxtehude,
J.S. Bach and a Russian Orthodox piece by Vasily P. Titov. Thanks to
Mary Ann Malloy for encouraging us to attend this concert and the Madrigal
Christmas Eve found us once again on the
road to hear one of our favorite singers, Billye Brown Youmans singing
O Holy Night by Adolphe Adam at Great Bridge Presbyterian Church.
She sang all three verses and it was glorious. So many gifts, so many
gifted performers. We feel blessed.
A Holiday Wrap-up, 2002
Christmas is a time of music. Donning my red blazer we went forth to
enjoy the pleasures of the holiday season.
In November Virginia Opera brought the community
A Christmas Carol, an opera by Thea Musgrave. With a modern musical language,
this holiday classic was effectively staged, though by the last act I longed for a bit
of bel canto bravado to celebrate Scrooge's change of heart.
Sing We Noël, a new Christmas cantata by
John Dixon with the composer at the organ on December 8, 2002 was a hit. Using
French noëls, some dating back to medieval times, John Dixon's update
brought a fresh sound to this music, some familiar and some new to this listener. The
choir, directed by Valetta Fellenbaum, was accompanied by organ, oboe, harp, flute and
handbells. This piece, using a church choir to full advantage, gave the audience
at Providence Presbyterian an experience of spirited and lovely music.
A High Point of the Holiday Season
On Sunday, December 15, 2002, the Governor's School for the
Arts gave a concert of classical vocal music. The program opened with the Advanced
Vocal Ensemble, directed by Dr.Lee Tepley, singing six songs, three from Benjamin
Britten's Ceremony of Carols. The singers, Eboni Amos,
Jessica Buckman, Rosemarie Stephens-Booker, Bethany Wherry, Crystal Williams and
Rae Wynn-Grant, created a coordinated, powerful and beautiful musical sound, a capella, with
clear, pure tones. These young woman joined the full choir to sing the Handel's Messiah
and sing they did. All were soloists for at least one of the two performances, as were
Michael Haler, Martin Lonart, Ryan Green, Karen Owens, Judy Bowers, Anna Ashby,
Ashly Burroughs and Jeffrey Soto.
We sat in the balcony of Norfolk's Larchmont United Methodist
Church, facing the large pipes of the organ, well played by Michael Regan. In this
high-ceilinged setting the reverberation of the chorus was stunning for its power, beauty
and glory of sound. The exuberance of these 40 young people is seldom matched.
To mark the official beginning of the faith-based
community's celebration of Christmas at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Norfolk, Charles
Woodward, the new music director, sent us an invitation to attend A Festival
of Nine Lessons and Carols, on Sunday, December 22, 2002. Tom Marshall was the
very able organist. The choir was outstanding, with most of the singers from the
congregation. With the visiting singers, this choir looked and sounded a lot like the Virginia Chorale
of a few seasons ago.
The soloists were Charlene Merchant, Michael Dailey and
Lisa Relaford Coston. In the song Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day, the
organ was joined by drums played by Rob Cross and tambourine played by Thomas Elmo
Bishop III. The readers were community leaders. It was a very impressive service
with wonderful music. St.Paul's was founded in 1637 and the present building was completed
in 1739, making it the oldest structure in Norfolk.
The Virginia Beach Symphony's community Messiah Singalong on December 23, was
the best ever. With about one third of the group new participants there was a different
energy and a great sense of excitement. The soloists were an exceptionally talented group of singers:
soprano Agnes Mobley-Wynne, contralto Kim Rouke, tenor Michael Dailey and baritone Tod Fitzpatrick.
This was the 20th year of this free concert led by the fine and enthusiastic conductor
David Kunkle. The chorus master for the audience was the able Mark Hudgins.
It was a grand experience and a great beginning for a lovely Christmas.
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