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Robert, Lyra, & Lucas, Pherigo, modernize Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral

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A piano, voice a flute recital of music by Charles Ives and Aaron Copland


The music of Aaron Copland (1900-1990) and Charles Ives (1874-1954) filled the air in Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral Sunday, as the family Pherigo brought forth the second concert of five in the "Summer Music at the Cathedrals," series. This article cannot recreate the joy of having been in the same room with the music, it can only remind you of the pleasure you had as a member of the audience, or not. Next Saturday and Sunday will be an all Handel program provided by the Summer Singers of Kansas City, a much better choice than golf on television.

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Robert Pherigo, pianist, accompanied himself as tenor in Ives' 1906 song, "The Cage." It has only one bar line, after the first several notes, requiring the performers to divine where accents should occur, presumably to best tell the one minute story of a boy watching a leopard pacing in his cage, except when the keeper comes with food. It was tonal and whimsical; the interpretation was entirely plausible.

The next four Ives songs were sung by Lyra Pherigo: "Songs My Mother Taught Me," (1895) "The Children's Hour" (1901) Berceuse (1900) and "Two Little Flowers" (1921). The first had a bit more complex harmony than typical for the early century, but was typically sentimental. "The Children's Hour," had a home tone to which the melody continually returned, melodic climbing and falling used for emphasis of certain phrases. Ms Pherigo's sound is fairly light, but resonant enough to fill the nave without straining.

"Dreams" (1897) was one of a set of 14 songs of which Ives left instructions to never perform, except as examples of how to not write songs. The setting of Porteus' poem contains little of the iconoclastic characteristics for which Ives is reputed, just a nice song, well presented. Perhaps Ives was looking for more innovation than simply writing from his period.

Lucas Pherigo sang the dirge, "Slow March" (1888). It is simply a short narrative verse; Mr. Pherigo sang it in good pitch with a good legato line and little emotional variation.

Robert Pherigo played the first movement of Ives' Piano Sonata No. 2 "Concord, Mass., 1840-1860" (1920) entitled "Emerson," before the Intermission and the third movement, "The Alcotts," to begin the second section of the program. The never-ending fast, and sometimes seemingly unrelated notes continued like machine gun fire, miraculously, ably handled, phrased, and played from memory. Sometimes the music calmed for a breath, but went right back to the madness. As this is one of the first recognized pieces of Ives' work, it is certainly worth the work Mr. Pherigo put into presenting it, and would be good to hear a few more times, to hear ingredients in his music that influenced composers who followed him.

Lyra Pherigo created the transition from Ives to Copland by sing both men's setting of the American hymn, "At the River." According to Ms Pherigo, and borne out by the treatment of the text, Ives was, perhaps inquiring of the song: in this enlightened, transcendental, all-accepting civilization, shall we gather? He repeats the phrase in shorter bits as the piece concludes. He also lands the melody at strange phrase-ending notes (blue notes?), requiring the singer to be absolutely secure (she was) in order to not sound incorrect. Copland's version, known to most, has some Twentieth Century harmony in the piano part, but the vocal line is fairly true to southern hymnals.

Copland's Duo for Flute and Piano was simply a delight. The first movement of the sonata-length piece, "Flowing," begins with the flute, for lack of a better word, flowing unaccompanied for about eight bars, after which it is joined by spare lines from the piano. The movement continues with fast and slow sections, the two instruments weaving into prominence and decline as the importance of their melodic sections imply. It returns to a simple flute solo with light support from the piano. Sections II. "Poetic, somewhat mournful," and III "Lively, with bounce," were true to their titles, and beautifully played by both players.

Celebrate the lack of Sunday football and attend the last three programs; you'll like them.


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