“Literary Delights” program offers eclectic mix
The icy steps of Lorimer Chapel did not halt music-appreciators of Colby and Waterville from attending a special performance of the “Music at Colby” series, “Literary Delights: Storytelling from The Canterbury Tales,” on Saturday, February 26.
Centering the program on the concept of literature through music, Colby’s woodwinds faculty welcomed Associate Professor of Music Lily Funahashi on piano and special guest soprano singer Suzanne Nance.
While the pieces chosen were based on the program’s theme of “literary delights,” the concert was a strange, though intriguing, combination of French Romantic art songs and 20th century Neoclassical interpretations of Renaissance folk traditions, re-imagining old art through new ideas.
The intermission separated the eclectic program into two distinct experiences. The first was a mix of woodwind ensemble pieces and vocal art songs (pieces by Debussy, Goodman, Hermann) and the second part was a mix of soprano songs, featuring throwback pieces from Lester Trimble’s “Four Fragments from The Canterbury Tales,” as well as other pieces by Massenet, Holst.
The concert opened with the classic dreamy whole-tone sound of French Romanticism—a short golden flute solo by Nicole Rabata in Debussy’s “Syrinx,” full of flute slurs falling into low register trills. Setting the stage for a dramatic sound, the next piece added clarinet (Eric Thomas) and oboe (Michael Albert) in two short movements of Alfred Goodman’s “Kleine Suite.” This suite altered the mood to a more exciting, more contemporary non-harmonic exchange between all three instruments, including a staccato call-and-response kind of melodic variation which utilized flutter tongue.
Following these two instrumental pieces was the first of soprano singer Nance’s program, starting with Debussy’s “Beau Soir” with text by Paul Bourget.
As the first vocal piece, “Beau Soir” brought the performance back to a dreamy Impressionist whole-tone-arpeggio vibe supported by the poetic accompaniment of clarinet and piano.
Although Nance’s animated performance style reminded me of the theatrics involved in Broadway musicals, she proved herself a capable soprano singer as she operatically hit the high notes. The first half ended with Nance’s grandiose interpretation of Bernard Hermann’s “I Have Dreamt” from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which included Nance’s faraway dramatic gazes into the Doric columns of the Chapel.
The second half of the program delved deeper into the program’s main theme of story through song. Nance prepared the audience with a brief talk about Jules Massenet’s “Élégie,” in which she explained the story of the loss of a man to a woman, by either death or abandonment. She reasoned to the audience, “Either way, whatever you choose, it is very powerful.”
The piece began with the piano introducing the slow falling chromatic melody that would be repeated in a supporting duet between oboe and piano, as well as in Nance’s soprano voice, throughout the song.
Following this, Gustav Holst’s instrumental “Terzetto” abruptly returned the program to a Neoclassical instrumental ensemble mode, with its many changes in tempo and rhythmic meter and slurred repeated glissando melodies on top. Finally, the program ended with Trimble’s featured interpretations of The Canterbury Tales in “Four Fragments of The Canterbury Tales.”
Colby faculty clarinetist Eric Thomas introduced the final piece, advising the audience to take note of the “major and minor changes” between movements of The Canterbury Tales. Each movement—“Prologe,” “A Knyght,” “A Young Squier,” “The Wyf of Biside Bathe”—represented a different character’s story which was reflected in the varying nuances of musical style in each of Nance’s interpretations.
While The Canterbury Tales are of the 14th century, Lester Trimble’s “Four Fragments from The Canterbury Tales” stand for a 20th century musical take on Renaissance folk tales.
The series featured flute, clarinet, oboe and piano, although the effect of juxtaposing new and old was slightly diminished with the use of piano over harpsichord, with Trimble originally intending for the latter.
Although the program featured the “Literary Delights” within woodwind ensemble music, the program included an interesting range of genres, which made the theme somewhat difficult to understand, but nonetheless intriguing to experience.
While it was a somewhat bizarre experience to hear ye old Middle English performed by a combination of Renaissance sonata form and modern contemporary unconventionality, “Literary Delights” was a good performance to experience, at least for its individuality in program.