While it was well attended—seventy-some folks gathered in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Liberty on a sunny February afternoon—the Ann Arbor Cantata Singers’ concert called Serenades and Nocturnes still seemed very intimate. Partly it was the program: all love songs, nine for chorus, six for soloists. Partly it was the audience, made up mostly of friends, family, and lovers. Partly it was the size of the chorus: two tenors, six basses, and seven each of sopranos and altos. Mostly it was the Cantata Singers themselves. Whether trained or untrained, each clearly loved singing, loved the repertoire, loved each other, and loved the audience there to hear them.
One could feel the love in the warm harmonies of the Brahms choral songs that opened each half of the concert, in the blend of the passionate women and the doughty men as they embraced Brahms’ romantic melodies. True, the tenors did sound a tad thin in exposed passages, but there were only two of them and they had to hold up their end against unfair odds. And true, the group’s performances of madrigals by Arcadelt, Gibbons, and Wilbye did sometimes go a bit off pitch toward the ends of longer sections. But their performances of the Elgar songs that ended the first half were as beautiful as their Brahms and perhaps even more heartfelt.
And one could certainly feel the love in the solo songs. Bass Rob Northrup sang Fred Coots’s “You Go to My Head” with such sincerity that one suspects he was singing for soprano Quincy Northup. Soprano Alicia Verdier-Hammonds gave her all to Douglas Moore’s “Willow Song,” and the program notes that she “is loving the opportunity to sing with her girlfriend, Maggie.” But it was bass Tom Lloyd, a U-M pediatrics professor with four kids, who impressed most as a soloist when he turned in an ardent, impeccable, and quite droll version of Schubert’s amusing “An die Leier.”
What impressed most in the whole concert was the final number: Vaughan Williams’ ecstatic “Serenade to Music” featured a performance to match the music. These melodies are more lush and the harmonies more sensuous than even those in the Brahms, and under conductor Warren Puffer Jones’s expert direction, the Cantata Singers delivered a deeply moving performance, particularly the clarion solo work from soprano Terri Wilcox, who, the program notes, enjoys riding roller coasters with her husband.
The Cantata Singers’ next concert will be a season-closing lollapalooza, Haydn’s The Creation, which they’ll perform three times in May: at the First United Methodist Church in Brighton on the 18th, at Christ Church Cranbrook on the 19th, and back in Ann Arbor on the 20th at the First Congregational Church.
If the February concert was the Singers’ idea of love, I’d like to hear their notion of creation.