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  Nr. 89 - February 2006
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The Solo Concerts: An Evening of Songs, Arias, and Duets

by Jeffrey Carson, February 2006
Apollonia Ikonomou, soprano
Maria Elena Kolovos – soprano
Erynn Rees, soprano
Eleni Spanou, soprano
Brittany Stallings, mezzo soprano
Orfeas John Munsey, piano
Konstantina Andreakou, piano

Apothiki Gallery
December 4, 2005

Every six months Orfeas John Munsey, Paros’ musical mage, bestows on us an evening of his vocal students’ accomplishments. Most of them are studying at the Aegean Center, which presented this recital as the first event in an end-of-semester festival. And the Apothiki Gallery is the perfect place: it is handsome, spacious, equipped, central, and has decent acoustics.

The concert started with an aria from Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria” – this is one of the very first operas ever – sung passionately and precisely by Apollonia Ikonomou. Two more Monteverdi arias followed, one from “Arianna” – all that survives of a lost opera – sung by Erynn Rees, who has a strong, resonant soprano and an assured stage presence; and the second, a solo motet by Maria Elena Kolovos, whose high sweet soprano has plenty of dramatic edge. Good Monteverdi on Paros – it seems a miracle!

What a melodist is Pergolesi (he died aged 26) – as proved by Eleni Spanou, a Parian girl who has just turned sixteen. Learn her name: you’ll doubtless be seeing and hearing a lot of her, for she is serious about her music, has a lovely sweet soprano, is determined, and has a top-quality teacher. The next singer, Brittany Stallings, who is just a couple of years older than Eleni, sang a Handel aria, to which her rich mezzo-soprano lent a compelling plangency.

Apollonia followed with another Handel aria, “Lascia ch’io pianga” from the opera “Rinaldo”. We have heard her at least twice yearly since she started lessons with Orfeas some years ago, and her talent has flowered. The Italian means “Let me weep”, and although the singing was always lovely and unmannered, you could hear the throb of grief subtly behind every phrase. For me this was the highlight of the concert: Apollonia has arrived where she set out to go: beautiful music sung beautifully.

The concert’s first half closed with three songs by Henry Purcell, who is probably the greatest English composer, and a fount of melody. Erynn sang the first dramatically, and Maria Elena, as Dido, put plenty of tragedy in the second. To close on a delightful note after so much musical dolor, the two of them warbled a duet, “Hark! How the Songsters of the Grove”, with lots of avian imitation and sweetly trilling thirds.

There was plenty of wine flowing during the intermission, but the room was so filled – standing room only, upstairs, at the back, and outside in the warm evening – that it was hard to get to it. It is inexplicable that so many who had to stand six months ago and six months before that, still think there will be seats when they arrive late. Reader, let this be a warning: it is not likely to be emptier when Orfeas does it again in six months.

Ask any musician who is the greatest of all songwriters, and you know the answer beforehand: Schubert, whose lieder (he wrote 660 in his thirty-one years) vary in quality from very good to supreme. We heard five of the best, all accompanied by Konstantina Andreakou on piano, who has a lot of fingers, and essays these impossible accompaniments (Schubert himself had trouble playing them) with seeming ease. Maria Elena commenced, followed by Erynn. Brittany sang “Standchen” (the famous Serenade) with confident grace, and Maria Elena returned for a moving account of Goethe’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade”, which Schubert composed when he was seventeen. His final song, “Die Taubenpost” (The Carrier-Pigeon), allowed us, in Apollonia’s spirited performance, to imagine that the composer enjoyed some happy moments at the feverish end of his brief life.

The next section comprised four songs by Gerald Finzi, an English composer who lived from 1901 to 1956. All I knew of his work previously, I admit, was his expressive “Clarinet Concerto”, but he also wrote several song cycles. The songs are charming, in the lyrical English pastoral tradition, and the melodies have a flowing folk flavour. Apollonia and Brittany began with a duet, and then each did one alone, and they closed the section again together in the insouciant duet “Boy Johnny” – wherein Johnny learns a lesson about girls.

The final section let each of the singers choose a popular song. Apollonia began wistfully with Harold Arlen’s beloved “Over the Rainbow”; Eleni followed with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Think of Me”, which clearly means much to her; Erynn gave a forthright account of Billie Holiday’s too-little-known “Preacher Boy”, and Brittany sang the soprano favourite, Gershwin’s “Summertime”. To close, Apollonia, Brittany, Maria Elena, and Erynn, joining the party one at a time, had a hot night of it “Lounging at the Waldorf” (according to Fats Waller) – and if these vocalizing babes are living it up there, I plan to drop by.

Four of these singers will be performing again in the spring. Orfeas should charge admission.
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