Three Portraits (music: Kieren MacMillan, words: Dana Giola) got his premiere performance yesterday in the RBA. The performers were the Haven Trio (Lindsay Kesselman, soprano; Kimberly Cole Luevano, clarinet; Midori Koga, piano). I have to be honest this just isn’t my kind of piece. The texts are quite interesting but most of the the setting is in that sort of Neo-Broadway flirts with Minimalism space that so much of the vocal music I get sent from the US lies in. To be fair, the third song; The Country Wife got a rather more sophisticated treatment but still very much in the same sound universe. The performance was very decent though and it was a clever move to use the staircase in the RBA to match the words of the first song.
The second half of the concert was Abbie Betinis’ Nattsanger to Norwegian texts by Rolf Jacobsen. Despite the texts the music was immediately recognizable as American! Wikipedia claims that “Betinis chooses meaningful texts to set in a unique, yet accessible style” and that’s pretty much true of this piece. It sounds like work by someone who writes a lot for amateur and semi-pro choirs. There’s a pretty straight forward vocal line and a schmaltzy piano part. Only the clarinet really gets used to its potential. At least that was the case for five of the seven songs. For two though the composer seemed to be prepared to throw off the accessibility strait jacket and give us something with more meat. Lavmaelt had quite a bit of humour in the setting and there were fun things going on between the vocals and the clarinet. No piano in this song. The final song, Sjøfugl was the highlight for me. The clarinet was unleashed and the vocalist was asked to do quite a bit. The repetitions on the word Nåde (Mercy) were intense and moving. Clearly Ms. Betinis has more in her armoury than sequences of rising and descending chords and the odd blue note. I just wished she had used it more. It also gave Lindsay a chance to show what she can do and she’s pretty good. Too good to be doing academic crooning!
Photo credit: Chris Hutcheson