Cook, Horne remain class acts

Critic's Corner//Music

Critic's Corner // Music

September 12, 2006|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

The 2006-2007 music season arrived in songful fashion.

An irresistible draw Friday night was the prospect of two septuagenarian luminaries from the Broadway and opera worlds sharing the stage of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park for an affectionate, compelling stroll through the great American songbook.

Any opportunity to be in the presence of Barbara Cook is welcome. Since the 1950s, when her musical theater career took off, she has been treasured for the purity of her voice and the natural warmth of her styling. Her second career as a concert artist shows no sign of diminishing now that she's 78. Just last January, she became the first nonclassical singer presented by the Metropolitan Opera House in concert.

That same month, word came that one of the most popular opera stars to appear on the Met stage, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, had pancreatic cancer. But Horne, who retired from opera in 1999, is undeterred. At 72, she still works hard with her nonprofit foundation, preserving the vocal recital. And she's still got what it takes to perform.

Even with a few rough notes (Horne was nursing a sore throat), it was evident that there is a lot of gold left in those vocal cords.

Maybe her "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" was a little square, her "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" a little belabored, but there was no mistaking the conviction behind her performance - she clearly relishes this stuff. Her endlessly held last note on "Beauty and the Beast" was so lovely that I nearly forgot what an undistinguished song it really is.

Cook forgot the occasional lyric, on one occasion prompting an expletive. ("And on the opening night of the season, too," she said to great laughter.) But a singer with so much insight, not to mention a fresh, pearly tone, can be forgiven anything.

Invariably, Cook reaches layers of truth and beauty in a song that even the songwriters might not have known were there. The way she can mold the melody and plumb the words of South Pacific's "This Nearly Was Mine," with all the eloquence of bittersweet wisdom and not an ounce of exaggeration, is but one memorable example. That was a high point of Friday's concert.

Neither singer had a technically perfect night. (As Horne said, "Tempus has fugited.") And the nearly two-hour, intermissionless show, solidly supported by pianist Marvin Laird and bassist Peter Donovan, could have used another rehearsal.

I wish there had been more duets - and better duet material. A swinging "Blue Skies" swung right out of tune. And the patriotic medley that served as the final encore didn't quite work. But this was still a great night for singing, for drinking in the aura of two veteran artists, for being reminded what "class act" really means.

Great Hall series begins

Robert Cantrell is a busy bass-baritone. He appears with opera companies and choral ensembles in the region, sings as a soloist at Grace United Methodist Church and teaches at the Baltimore School for the Arts. Over the weekend, he opened the Music in the Great Hall series at Towson Unitarian Universalist Church.

Sunday's recital found Cantrell in engaging form. Although there were a few cloudy or raspy patches in the singing, the level of communication and nuance was always admirable, especially in Jacques Ibert's Chansons de Don Quichotte.

Accompanied in fine style by pianist Daniel Lau, Cantrell also did impressive work in lieder by Brahms, arias by Handel and Verdi, and traditional spirituals (excepting an awkwardly jaunty "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot").

tim.smith@baltsun.com

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