Sunday was the finale of of the Summer Music at the Cathedrals series, presented by musicians of the cathedral. John Schaefer played piano in each ensemble. Douglas McConnell employed his tenor voice singing Dichterliebe, opus 48, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Meribeth Risebig and Claudia Risebig played Concerto for Oboe and Bassoon, by Antonia Vivaldi (1678-1741). Ralph Vaughn Williams' (1872-1958) Songs of Travel, was sung by baritone, Paul Davidson.
There is little interest built into the boy meets girl, boy and girl love each other, they live happily ever after, story. So it was not with the song cycles heard Sunday, the poems by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) were of unrequited, love and hopes not quite achieved, giving opportunity for the first person narrators to develop their concepts of life, values, love and disappointment. Now for the spoilers: Heine's final (translated) phrases are "Do you know why it is that the coffin will have to be so huge and heavy? I am burying in it my love and pain." Stevenson's final thought is, "And I have lived and loved, and closed the door."
Mr. McConnell's presentation of the Schumann cycle, Dichterliebe, Op. 48, included reaching for all of the singer's tools to vary the pace of a performance. Gracious crescendi and diminuendi, increasing velocity and slowing to vividly express the text and music combination. His tone reflected not only good training, but sensitive listening and learning from the best song interpreters. Those who followed Canon Schaefer's suggestion to sit close to the front heard every appropriate nuance.
The Vivaldi concerto separated the two narratives of backbreaking lives; it was delightful. The oboe and bassoon toyed with melodies, tossing them back and forth, or playing three-way catch with the piano. The second movement, Largo, was particularly restful, as the oboe introduced a sweeping melody, to be answered by the bassoon. The piece featured impeccable playing, with intuitive phrasing as the melodic conversation floated between the three instruments. Both double-reed musicians are members of several professional ensembles, and have played with the Kansas City Symphony.
Renowned baritone, Paul Davidson, was a delight to hear in Ralph (pronounced, Rafe) Vaughan William's Songs of Travel. He can be heard as tenor soloist on the combined Phoenix Bach Chorale and Kansas City Chorale's 2007 Grammy-winning Grechaninov recording. He was immersed in the narrator's character, which was more a description of a full life, complete with happiness and woe, than the Schumann cycle, which never, quite achieved a relaxed smile. Mr. Davidson's well-developed vocal range allowed him to sing through the melodies with a pleasant roundness in the bass, an expressive baritone range, and a relaxed and sure head tone.
John Schaefer was his usual attentive ensemble member, weaving the piano part into and out of ascendancy, as the voices and horns interacted. Several of the sections were demanding of the pianist, but no one could tell.
A purpose of the cathedrals' summer series was to prevent Kansas City audiences from the necessity of breaking the cellophane wrappers in their CD collections, to listen to electronic reproductions of performances, in order to hear good music in August. Thank you, for providing this relaxing, rewarding, set of Sundays.