MAUREEN McGOVERN, the songbird from Youngstown, Ohio, lit up Meyerhoff Symphony Hall last night with the warmth of her theater melodies and message of caring in an AIDS benefit.
McGovern has a beautiful, versatile voice that fits notes through a keyhole or covers the ceiling. She whispered, whistled, cooed, belted and sang her soul out. She sang louder or softer, as forcefully as a hard wind rising or as gracefully as a gentle wind falling.
Frequently one of the first entertainers to help a charity, McGovern sang a dozen show tunes in the second half of the third annual Chesapeake AIDS Foundation Benefit. The Festival Orchestra of Baltimore Symphony and other players and her own trio backed her smoothly.
"We should be giving, it's not too late, not while we're living", she sang in her opener, "There's Got to be a Morning After." Then, she exhorted the applauding crowd, "Together, we'll try to see there are many mornings after." Quickly, she bonded with the crowd's emotions and held tight.
Her red hair set off by sparkling blue and black outfit, McGovern pranced and sang "Little Jazz Bird," "Porgy and Bess" numbers, "Rhapsody in Blue," "Just One of Those Things," "Right as the Rain" and more. She described herself as a "Gershwin fanatic" but proved herself a Gershwin scholar-protector.
Altogether 200 musicians donated their time and talent. William Henry Curry, former BSO resident conductor and now temporary head man at the New Orleans Symphony, kept a friendly but firm hand on things. TV news anchor Al Sanders introduced, the program that was mostly light and unpretentious. The 2,400-seat house was far more than half empty but fuller than last year.
The Festival chorus, made up of the Morgan State University Choir and other singers, rose to some well-formed heights and a rich finish in Vaughn Williams' anthem, "Toward the Unknown Region" based on a Walt Whitman poem, "Darestf Thou Now O Soul."
The Hillen Road choristers, one of the finest groups in the mid-Atlantic area, showed a fluid unity in an earlier gospel song and a choral work, "Harriet Tubman," but accompanying instruments in front sometimes intruded.
BSO concertmaster Herbert Greenberg played second fiddle last night with some pride. His student, 21-year-old violinist Ramsey Husser, of the Peabody Conservatory, made his Meyerhoff debut in a cleverly executed "Carmen Fantasy," producing a wide range of emotional texture.
With generally fine tones, Husser bowed his way easily through the rhythm and romance of the Bizet tunes arranged by the 19th Century Spanish virtuoso Pablo Sarasate. His official BSO debut is this summer.