Serenades on a Clear Night: Music of Schubert, Brahms, and Mendelssohn
Greg Geehern, Conductor
Several nineteenth-century composers presented their vocal and chamber works not in expansive concert halls, but in private salons and parlors. The Schubertiades, a series of intimate house concerts featuring the evocative music of Franz Schubert, were the forerunners of today’s cherished song recitals.
A young Felix Mendelssohn regularly entertained a host of fashionable guests in his family’s Berlin salon through his elegant chamber compositions and his prodigious performance skills.
Johannes Brahms, in a letter to his publisher, indicated that both his Liebeslieder and Neue Liebeslieder were suitable for Schubertiade-like house concerts.
These intimate spaces, and the fellowship that they engendered, prompted the composers to explore the similarly intimate themes of love, loss and the human being’s relationship to nature and the divine. The Bloomington Chamber Singers explored these themes through the vocal chamber music of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms.
Our program booklet is here.
Here is the review of our concert in the Bloomington Herald-Times:
Review: Weekend features refreshing serenades, expressive voices
By Peter Jacobi | H-T Reviewer | email@example.com | Oct 24, 2016
Choral music for smaller spaces and another evening with Florencia Grimaldi: Those were weekend destinations, and refreshing ones at that.
‘Serenades on a Clear Night’
That was the title given the Bloomington Chamber Singers for their beautifully sung concert Saturday evening. It was filled with invitingly Romantic 19th-century songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, no less.
The works selected were meant to be performed in intimate spaces. Though St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, with its spacious ceiling pointedly arched skyward, can’t quite be classified as intimate, it somehow emits a warmth that can embrace music in a comfortable and comforting manner. The aim of Gregory Geehern, the choir’s assistant conductor, was to approximate 19th-century concert environs, such as those used for Schubert’s so-called Schubertiades and Mendelssohn’s programs for home salons and Brahms’s works composed for chamber-sized venues.
The seating space in St. Mark’s is not large and connects closely to the area from which church services are performed. So, the experiment worked. There was a sense of intimacy. What’s more, young Maestro Geehern had the measure of the music, most of it filled with bounce and joy and lyricism. A listener could relax while also taking in a host of feelings about love and loss, about the wonders of nature and a higher being.
There were five songs of Schubert to be heard, including the popular “Standchen,” celebrating the night through the voices of guest mezzo-soprano Amanda Russo and the women of the BCS. Schubert’s “Nachthelle” (“A Clear Night”), close-to-whispered by tenor soloist William Perkins, in awe of night’s radiance, also brought the choir’s men into play. The chamber singers then offered “Der Gondelfahrer” (“The Gondolier”), voicing such thoughts as: “You can float on the moonbeam, now, my boat, and free from all the restraints, rock yourself in the bosom of the sea.” Intimate, indeed.
Mendelssohn’s more melancholy Six Songs mix words that search for love with those that reflect life and death, all sung with shifts of passion voiced by full chorus. The music mirrors poetry that, in translation, tells us, “The wind blows so mildly and eerily, the birds sing so sweetly and mournfully: the chattering youngsters, they fall silent; they weep and they do not know why.” Ah, those Romantics!
To represent Brahms, Geehern chose the composer’s “Neue Liebeslieder” (“New Songs of Love”), a set of 15 short songs that focus on the delights of love and the confusions love can introduce. Soprano Monica Dewey and baritone Charles Macklin added their voices here and there as the chorus swept through these gorgeous, waltz-infused items. Brahms ends the seesaw feelings expressed, blaming the Muses: “In vain, you strive to depict how lamentation and happiness alternate in the heart that loves.” Lovely music lovingly sung.
Add to the splendid singing the excellent supporting tones of pianists Alice Chuaqui Baldwin and Nicole Simental. A pleasing concert.