5 at the First, Strauss to Sondheim …and then some Reply

Review by Judith CaldwellreviewerJudith
               The concert’s subtitle was ‘Contrasts’ and that was accurate.  I had no idea what type of music would be presented on Sunday at The First Unitarian Church, our musicians were Alex Samaras, a vocalist; pianist Gregory Oh; and Bram Gielen, bass; each have such a wide range of studies and interests that the concert could contain anything.  What we did receive was an eclectic group of art songs and cabaret songs with several good old story-songs thrown in.

Gielen; Samaras & Oh ...the guest soloists

Gielen; Samaras & Oh …the guest soloists

From the opening insistent strumming of the bass to the final whistle of the encore we were entertained by first class musicians at the top of their game who clearly enjoyed what they were doing. The afternoon began with a driving, electric version of Bernstein and Sondheim’s ‘Something’s Coming’ which built an expectation of good things to come.  This was followed by two traditional Scottish songs, one arranged by Richard Strauss in German and the other arranged by Benjamin Britten.  The first was very controlled and metered and the second much more fluid and blatantly romantic even though our lover was jilted.
We were treated to a song by Gielen called ‘I Love You, I’m Yours’ in which he claimed not to be able to write romantically, but gave the lie by doing just that.  This was one of my favourite songs of the afternoon.
The truly wonderful story song ‘Black Max’ followed – it had a description of  Black Max ‘as thin as a rubber tape’ and told of girls in Rotterdam windows like ‘women in little doll house jails’.  This was brilliantly performed, especially by Samaras.The first half was wrapped up by ‘Worst Pies in London’; Mrs. Lovett’s song from Sweeney Todd originally performed by Angela Lansbury and carried off with humour by the three soloists.
After intermission we heard ‘Song Bird’ by Daniel Easty written from the point of view of the bird – ‘my song weaves in the air a tapestry’ etc.  It was fresh and lovely. Then back to Sondheim for ‘Everybody says Don’t’. Three American art songs followed written by musicians and poets who were mostly contemporaries – Ned Rorem, John Musto, Walt Whitman, Howard Moss and the black poet Langston Hughes. Two Sondheim songs from ‘Evening Primrose’ and Kurt Weill’s very funny The Saga of Jenny wrapped up the program.  An encore of ‘Grapefruit Moon’ was offered after much applause.

The overall impressions were Gregory Oh plays some very complicated piano so easily and is really into the music.  Gielen is a talented bassist, as well as doing a brilliant stint on the piano, while the entire afternoon was held together by Alex Samaras’ vocals.

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