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BDDS: Barber, Corigliano, Rorem, Bernstein

Barber: Canzone for Flute and Piano
Barber: Hermit Songs, Op. 29
Barber: Souvenirs, Op. 28
John Corigliano: Three Irish Folk Songs
Rorem: Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano
Bernstein: "Glitter and Be Gay," from Candide

Stephanie Jutt, flute
Parry Karp, cello
Caroline Helton, soprano
Jeffrey Sykes, piano
Martha Fischer, piano
Bill Lutes, piano


Continuing its now well-established tradition of presenting a melange of camp, visual art, and (mostly) serious music, the chamber-music group Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society filled the Isthmus Theater Monday evening, presenting a program provocatively titled "Glitter and Be Gay," with music by Samuel Barber, John Corigliano, Ned Rorem, and Leonard Bernstein. Three of the five works presented were first hearings for me. The performers were Stephanie Jutt (flute), Parry Karp (cello), Caroline Helton (soprano), and Jeffrey Sykes, Martha Fischer, and Bill Lutes, piano.

Jutt and Sykes (mainstays of the BDDS) opened with Barber's Canzone for Flute and Piano. Melodically fairly straightforward, somewhat wistful in Barber's typically American-sounding way, and not so long as to pose formal difficulties, the piece was hauntingly played.

Next came high seriousness indeed, Barber's Hermit Songs, Op. 29, for soprano and piano. Helton's voice was light but attractive, with generally good diction and dead-sure in its pitch control. The texts for the ten songs are ascribed to monks' jottings in monastery manuscripts and cover a wide range of topics from sacred to profane. All of the songs are very good, and at least three of them ("St. Ida's Vision," "The Crucifixion" and "The Desire for Hermitage") are incomparable masterworks. Helton and Sykes gave a clear, passionate account of this subtle, gorgeous music. Slides of very striking paintings by Nancy Giffey were shown during the music.

Less subtle perhaps but highly entertaining was Barber's Souvenirs, Op. 28 for piano, four-hands, performed by Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes. It's a set of six characteristic dances: waltz, schottische, pas de deux, two-step, tango, and galop. It's light-hearted in intent and so it was played, with wit and verve.

After intermission, Helton and Jutt presented Three Irish Folk Songs by Corigliano. What marvelous settings, the more or less traditional-style tunes of "The Salley Gardens," "The Foggy Dew" and Yeats's "She moved through the fair" interwoven with an incredibly passionate and evocative flute line. As for the performance, both players outdid themselves.

Equally marvelous but of an entirely different character was Rorem's Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano, performed by Jutt, Karp, and Sykes. The first and fourth movements were quite brilliant and technically demanding, while the angularity and percussiveness of the second seemed to encompass all of life's strife and bitterness, relieved only in part by the lyrical intensity of the impassioned cello solo that opens the third movement. In terms of performance values, the work is fantastically difficult, but they made it sound in perfect control at all times.

The program's title comes from the closing selection, "Glitter and Be Gay," from Bernstein's Candide. Helton and the instrumentalists teamed up with some minimal staging of the slapstick sort for this famous coloratura aria about a fallen woman who nevertheless enjoys the jewels and other benefits of her favors. It did indeed glitter. All four composers were (Barber, Bernstein) or are (Corigliano, Rorem) gay, hence a bit of a camp joke on that theme too.

Isthmus, March, 1996
Copyright 1996 Jess Anderson

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