Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Jennifer Koh details her zest for musical collaboration in the two-volume "Limitless"

Based on a recital project that the violinist Jennifer Koh completed last year, "Limitless" gathers her duo performances with eight contemporary composers (Cedille Records). The result is both a tribute to a virtuoso's magnanimity and to the inexhaustible expressive possibilities of the solo violin.

The two CDs cover immense territory of artistic perspectives and partnerships in sound. Koh has long had notable breadth in her repertoire, much of it generated from commissions and specialized projects. Growing up in a Korean-American family accustomed to poverty and mistreatment, the violinist in "Limitless" draws explicit acknowledgments from several of the composers of her resilience and the artistic value of surmounting prejudice and marginalization.

In that vein, the most challenging piece for me was "Give Me Back My Fingerprints," a closely interwoven duo with vocalist Du Yun that features the composer's raw voice, plaintive and deliberately hard to interpret. The result is a 9 1/2-minute fusion of the piece's two disparate components. Thus it represents what "Limitless" is all about while not amounting to a stainless success on its own terms.

More appealing is Koh's work with Qasim Naqvi, using the modular synthesizer, in a brooding, recitative-like piece called "Banquet," which seems to eschew  development for the sake of gradually spreading the focus of each instrument while preserving some rapport between them.
Jennifer Koh extends her reputation for well-grounded novelty in "Limitless."

Its manner of blending of different sound-worlds is taken to a broader canvas in "Her Latitude," with electronics by Wang Lu, which brings real-world sound sources ranging from Buddhist chanting to the tolling of bells and struck earthenware. The composer  is forthright in a program note about her admiration for Koh and the difficulties of adapting triumphantly to an alien culture while bringing forward her family heritage.

Another exotic influence lies behind Nina Young's "Sun Propeller" for violin and electronics, which is said to be inspired by Tuvan throat-singing. This is the two-disc set's only work that keeps striking me as too long, though there must be some complexity responsible for its expanse that justifies it. On the other hand, I was charmed by the three songs in which Koh is paired with Lisa Bielawa's soprano. Called "Sanctuary Songs," the composition is buoyant and defiant of threats to its theme of protection. I just wish the texts Bielawa uses had been included in the booklet.

Tyshawn Sorley's medittative use of the glockenspiel complement's Koh's violin superbly in his "In Memoriam Muhal Richard Abrams," in honor of a central figure in Chicago's free-jazz history. Another musician with a jazz pedigree working with Koh was Vijay Iyer, who is represented by four brief tone pictures titled "The Diamond." The imagery suggested by an old Buddhist text,"The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion," is looked at through four natural and mental phenomena, each fittingly embodied by "Limitless'" most conventional duo, violin and piano. The gift for evocative miniatures based on sense impressions in abstract music reminds me of Michael Colgrass'  "As Quiet As."

Missy Mazzoli is the only one of Koh's collaborators represented by works that have been done by others. But both benefit by the generosity and commitment typical of Koh's artistry. "Vespers for Violin" has the subtlety and quest for peace of evensong, with the amplified violin given an aura of gentle distortion as some of its gestures resonate against a tapestry of electronics. "A Thousand Tongues" takes off from a mordant poem by Stephen Crane that deals laconically with truth and lies. There is some wordless vocalizing added to Mazzoli's piano, which is subject to electronic washes and tremolo-like commentary.

The one tongue that speaks truth is dead in the poet's mouth, the text says. But there is nothing dead about the piece Mazzoli has built upon Crane's cynical foundation. More important, there is the unmistakable voice of artistic truth speaking clearly throughout "Limitless."

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

In the affirmative: The Yes! Trio delivers 'Groove du Jour'

CD cover: Avital (from left), Jackson, and Goldberg
The exclamation point in this piano trio's name carries a lot of weight. The assertion of the right to swing without  apology or compromise is basic to the ensemble concept that pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Omer Avital, and drummer Ali Jackson bring forward in "Groove du Jour" (Jazz & People).

The French label has captured this forthright American piano trio in a host of originals plus a jazz favorite, Jackie McLean's "Dr. Jackle" and the Great American Songbook standard "I'll Be Seeing You." The trio's approach to that Sammy Cain and Irving Kahal song etches the group's profile indelibly: lots of underlining the groove, a bluesy cast to the melodic treatment, and the dominance of the drums.

After a dreamy start, this "I'll Be Seeing You" wraps up the wistful feeling with a high-register bass solo, then becomes increasingly funky. Jackson lands on two and four with authority as the performance is infused with triplets in the manner of a classic r&b ballad. The unresolved ending represents the whimsical feeling that often inflects the original compositions as well. Throughout the arrangement, the Yes! men virtually rewrite the song's next-to-last phrase "I'll be looking at the moon" as "I'll be landing on the moon."

About that percussion emphasis: Fortunately Jackson is a resourceful drummer who tweaks each piece in a different direction, not by bashing his way forward to grab attention. The variety coming from the trap set may seem to direct the proceedings, but the piano and bass contribute essentially throughout.

Avital struck me as the most intriguing composer of the three: In the fast blues "Muhammad's Market," the drums again shoulder their way forward like Trump among world leaders in that famous group portrait. But ego seems less a factor than an imaginative feat: Souk meets soul, you might call this one, and Avital gets the credit for novel tone-painting.

The interplay among the three is always respectful, yet edgy. You get the feeling that Jackson, Avital, and Goldberg thrive on the kind of collegiality that never submerges competitiveness. This makes for an exciting collective statement that allows "Groove du Jour" to make its mark in the perpetually crowded field of the jazz piano trio.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Samuel Torres accentuates the positive with 'Alegria'

The Colombian percussionist Samuel Torres brings to the delightful genre of the "little big band" (10 players, in
Samuel Torres displays imagination from congas to ensemble.
this case) a sensibility rooted in Latin rhythms and song forms and fully conversant with his desire to present jazz with a sunny face in "Alegria" (Blue Conga Music).

The title means "joy," and Torres has the imagination and skill as both composer and bandleader not to allow the positive vibe to mean thin comfort food. There's plenty of sustenance on hand over the course of eight tunes.

Torres resists the piling-on that's sometimes part of the Latin jazz genre. The pieces are assertive, with pungent soloing, but the gestures of invitation are consistent. Having sidemen of the expressive range of Marshall Gilkes, trombone; Joel Frahm, saxophones, and Luis Perdono, piano, certainly helps.

The importance of dance in the popular culture of Latin America comes to the fore in the compositions and the catchy pace each tune establishes.

When there are shifts in the presentation, the effect is smoothly managed. "The Strength to Love" puts a churning rhythmic background behind an introspective melody championed by Perdono's statement on Fender Rhodes. The band comes in with an exciting long crescendo to back up Frahm's tenor solo.

"Barretto Power," honoring the congas master and Latin-jazz hero Ray Barretto, has such pleasant surprises as the muted trumpets placed after a series of solos. Ivan Renta's baritone gives special oomph to the performance, which embraces crunchy harmonies and a disjunctive melodic line topping an infectious beat.

"Little Grasshopper," a salute to the children Torres teaches, gives an essential role to the kalimba (African thumb piano). Renta lofts an amiable flute solo over the texture.

The title tune is predictably a lift to the spirit, chugging along without a care in the world. This is a well-integrated disc, modestly touched by novelty, that seems to accomplish everything it aims at.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Dor Herskovits' 'Flying Elephants': Eclecticism raised to the intense level of a manifesto

Dor Herskovits takes artistic breadth seriously.
In the debut recording of his quintet, drummer Dor Herskovits has created a true album — to revive that nearly discarded description of what was once applied to 78s in bound paper sleeves in unified packages for our grandparents.

The Israeli musician, now living in Boston, thinks of "Flying Elephants" (Endectomorph Music) as an integral artistic package, in which the music one hears connects essentially to poetry and artwork in the booklet. The 10 pieces the quintet plays aren't so much a suite, though, as signposts on what Herskovits conceives as an artistic journey. If you fly with his notions as well as his elephants, what results is a new concept of Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk applied to original 21st-century jazz. For better or worse, "Flying Elephants" is an album.

A totemic pachyderm from Herskovits' Facebook page.
I found that the music led me to desirable mental places that the other artistic materials didn't support. Poetry and visual art may serve vital purposes for the composer-performer and his colleagues, but the music can stand on its own. It is free-ranging in its sources and analogues, and some knowledge of what may strike the ear as miscellaneous is occasionally helpful, particularly with the title track. The internal rapport of the group is solid.

The evocations of Thelonious Monk in "Recursion" are delectable and smoothly brought to the foreground, with some wry bowed bass from Max Ridley. The leader's approach to the drum set is remarkably fresh: The gradually assembled solo he lays down in "Recursion" displays his keen ear and sense of pacing.

Making a piece work out of material that rubs up against its neighbors seems to be a habit with this group: The quirky, almost hesitant start of "Magenta" morphs into a guitar rave-up by Caio Afiune, before relaxing the tension in a poky conversation focusing on saxophone (Hery Paz) and piano (Isaac Wilson). The different tempos work well together, and instrumental color — here and elsewhere in the album — contributes vitally to the mosaic.

It's hard to distinguish genuine feeling from mockery at times. But that shouldn't be a problem in what might be dizzyingly called our post-postmodern era. "Sob" features a (satirically?) moody guitar and Paz's wavery, moaning saxophone. "Bangin'" goes to the outside from the start, then draws in iron filings around a post-bop magnet in the front line, with great variety in Herskovits' drumming.

A few tracks feel fragmentary ("New fashioned") or simply vague ("Water"). Even the disappointments in this set are central to the spirit of jazz, which tries things out when it can avoid proceeding by rote. Yet Herskovits may make excessive claims for the overall result: you can't "un-read" such braggadocio as this from the press release: " is fresh, original and has many layers one can enjoy as the music is explored deeply."

The truth of such an artist statement necessarily must be left up to the listener. This one was charmed  by the album.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Dover Quartet adds pianist for quintet to crown concert for Ensemble Music

Ensemble Music president John Failey took note of the unusual placement of the society's second concert of the season Wednesday as he introduced the Dover Quartet to the audience at the Glick Indiana History Center.
The Dover Quartet, shown here in a New York radio studio appearance

Finding a date, he said, to bring to town this string quartet, based at Northwestern University, and the busy Israeli-born New York pianist Inon Barnatan meant the holiday-season scheduling of a program without a whiff of Christmastide about it.

Inon Barnatan was crucial to an outstanding Shostakovich performance.
No matter: Despite the minor mode signaled in the title, the piece bringing the five players onstage had the catchy tunes of the Scherzo and the Finale to buoy the spirits. Dmitri Shostakovich, who husbanded his cheerfulness carefully and sometimes wryly, sent the capacity crowd away happily via this stellar performance of the Piano Quintet in G minor, op. 57.

Barnatan sparked the rendition, and ignition was assured from the opening piano statement on. After the hard-hitting first movement, a slow fugue amply underlined the tension the Soviet composer usually kept under precise control. The performance of the second movement evinced his patented long-suffering patience as it unfolded.

The flashy Scherzo was well-articulated and rich in dynamic contrast. After the slow Intermezzo, the transition to the Allegretto finale displayed masterly suspense. As the expansive work reveled in its conclusion, the pianist's bright tone was dazzling and the string players matched his brilliance in the course of a movement dominated by a peppy march.

Before intermission, the Dover Quartet — violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw — played a fascinating work by Shostakovich's friend and younger contemporary Benjamin Britten. Written shortly before "Peter Grimes," which made the British composer's international reputation, the Quartet No. 1 in D major bears in its first movement signs of the lyricism and eeriness of that opera. There was abundant rhythmic acuity and sensitivity to Britten's wealth of color in the course of the four movements. I especially enjoyed how the individualistic gestures that burst forth in the third movement, "Andante calmo," seemed to prime the pump for further, coordinated lyricism. The elfin zest with which the finale was dispatched was among the concert's notable marvels.

The Dover launched its appearance with an impulsive but well-knit account of Beethoven's Quartet in F minor, op. 95, dubbed "Serioso" after a word in the heading of its third movement. The atmosphere suggested by the word was sustained, even through the lickety-split coda of the finale. The dour feeling of the slow movement, with its downward sliding phrases, had notable sweetness from the first violin and striking plangency of viola tone. The transition to the namesake "serioso" third movement was excellent, a foreshadowing of the connections the quartet was to forge along with the pianist in the Shostakovich.

Who needs Christmas music two weeks before Christmas? was my probably irreverent response to this captivating concert.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Lean in the forces at work, 'Messiah' at Second Presbyterian has just the right girth and a nice array of soloists

Michelle Louer showed "Messiah" mastery in sophomore outing with the IBO.
Last year's initial collaboration on Handel's "Messiah" between the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra and the Beecher Singers of Second Presbyterian Church was so satisfying I just had to return for the deuxieme Sunday afternoon.

It was well worth it. Buoyed by Second Presbyterian's fine acoustics, the 15-voice choir and the 18-piece orchestra (for the most part no larger than the body of singers, since timpani and two trumpets are sparingly used) worked seamlessly together, as they did in 2018.

Director Michelle Louer's selection of soloists from the choir seemed even more inspired than it did last year. And there was plenty of mostly secure ornamentation in the solos, often with an apt flourish at slowed final cadences, starting with tenor Blake Beckemeyer's picturesque "rough places" in the oratorio's first aria.

The performance enjoyed the contributions of a fine male alto, Michael Walker. He was robust in all registers, especially in his initial appearance, "But who may abide." He displayed a particularly luminous tone, weighted with just enough pathos, in the work's alto showpiece, "He was despised."

Nearly three hours after his first appearance, Walker sounded a little too gentle in "If God be for us," the work's last aria, which heralds the formidable choral package of "Worthy is the Lamb" and "Amen." The choir was evidently not tired, as the assertive "Blessing and honour, glory and power" section had all the might anyone has any right to expect, and the complex "Amen" was sturdy and well-balanced from first note to last, the orchestra following suit.

The only soloist returning from last year, bass Samuel Spade, was again forthright and impassioned in "The trumpet shall sound" and the recitative that introduces it. This time I didn't hesitate to notice that he poured as much conviction into the aria's middle section, with the solo trumpet's radiant obbligato suspended, as he had in the main material, where his dotted-rhythm treatment of the tune upon its return shook with portent.

The other soloist in his voice class, Jesse Warren, gave more than adequate warning of the miracle to come in the early recitative "Thus saith the Lord." He doubled down on that hint of ferocity in "Why do the nations so furiously rage together" in Part Two.

In the brief, dramatic Nativity portion of "Messiah," the sequence for soprano was brightly managed by Paulina
Title page of the 1902 score (as reprinted in 1942) that I inherited from my father, a version beloved in the early 20th century, since superseded, including elimination of the inauthentic definite article in the title.
Francisco, climaxed by the brilliant chorus-orchestra partnership of "Glory to God," with the crowning splendor  of the IBO's pair of "natural," valveless trumpets.

A well-matched duo of Amanda Russo Stante and Erin Twenty Benedict made the linked arias "He shall feed his flock" and "Come unto Him" fully complementary. Reverent fervor suffused Caitlin Seranek Stewart's performance of the beloved aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth," with a few off-pitch notes of little account.

A virtuoso sequence of pain and glory, from "All they that see him laugh him to scorn" to "But Thou didst not leave his soul in Hell," was spectacularly brought off by tenor soloist Gregorio Taniguchi. Beckemeyer returned shortly thereafter to display the advantage of presenting soloists of different expressive capabilities as he sang the tenor recitative and aria that immediately precede the Hallelujah Chorus.

I've concentrated on soloists here because their variety and fitness for an array of tasks in this performance worthily reflected Handel's own practice of deploying more than the four individual soloists stipulated by the score. The ensemble opportunities came off creditably as well, but to admire how tastefully ornamented solos needn't get in the way of the direct, declamatory style proper to oratorio singing deserves extra consideration.

And nine adept soloists drawn from a choir of 15 — amazing: another "Messiah" miracle!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Story line is imported into 'A Very Phoenix Xmas," as a venerable tradition of comedy and song continues

Let me back into this review of "Winston's Big Day (A Very Phoenix Xmas 14)" by relaying a story about me that might honestly cast light on my perspective, which entered its second weekend Friday night at Phoenix Theatre.

Years ago, when I was still on the staff of the Indianapolis Star, an editor and I conferred about an upcoming story. The subject of a personality piece was under discussion, and, to indicate the importance of the feature, my boss informed me: "He's really a rock star."

I knew the description was intended as a figure of speech, because whoever we were discussing did not perform rock music for a living, as far as I knew. But my immediate response to the editor's description was probably stunned silence, because I was thinking: "Really?!  What did he do?"

With ample support, Winston (Dave Pelsue) morphs into the rock star of his dreams.
Turns out the identifying phrase was meant to impress me positively, and the editor proceeded to fill me in. But "rock star" immediately evoked irresponsible sexcapades (as the gossip columnists used to say), drug use and rehab, trashing hotel rooms and other misbehavior that I assumed were typical of rock stars. Why would anyone want that? Wouldn't that pall after, say, six weeks?

I'm from Flint, Michigan, where Keith Moon, drummer of the Who, once drove a car into a motel swimming pool. This famous incident penetrated even my profound ignorance of the rock scene 50 years ago. And it was in line with how I came to think of rock stars, because I'm not a fan of the music and, as a newspaperman in the arts wing, had gleaned bits on the misbehavior of some of its performers,

So along comes the new Phoenix show using a North Pole elf's dream of becoming a rock star as a device to give continuity to the series of songs and sketches. That means that even though I've learned to think that being called a rock star is meant to be something desirable, it was still an effort to see Winston's quest to escape Santa Central and get into Falalalapalooza (I hope I've accurately counted the syllables) as a worthy innovation for this series of Yuletide shows.

We go to the theater in part to be drawn into lives that are unlike ours, so I became slightly sympathetic to the character Dave Pelsue played so energetically. I couldn't quite hold onto that sympathy over the course of two hours, but it's clear the audience (whether rock fans or not) is being engineered to cheer Winston on. Saddled with a last-minute assignment to command Santa's sleigh, guided by the super-fey reindeer Rudolph (Ramon Hutchins), Winston has to master self-doubt concerning both the unexpected worldwide gift-delivering gig and the career he hopes to make in music once he sheds his elf persona.

While I endorse the vision of Chelsea Anderson and  the work of Xmas 14's roster of creators and production team in finding a way to get past the literal sketchiness of its predecessors, the new version of a tried-and-true production depends too much on razzle-dazzle to hide the threadbare story. It's a visual-vocal-instrumental extravaganza that admittedly entertained me along the way, even as I was processing the difficulty of caring much about Winston and Rudolph. At least the distractions were rich: The ensemble — Nathalie Cruz, Andrea Heiden, Jan Lucas, Pearl Scott, John Vessels, and Justin Sears-Watson — proved fit for every turn and twist of scenario.

The finale, "Believe in Yourself," fell into place with a finality that was predictable a mile off. Achieving durable self-esteem after a clutch of struggles is the trajectory of a significant part of recent musical theater.

I probably enjoyed too much Jen Blackmer's sketch involving a small-theater troupe rehearsing in the cold a holiday show designed as a multi-culti smorgasbord in which everyone honors his/her/its/their identity in excess and still goes away hungry. The parodic element, a survey of playwrights and theatrical genres both ancient and modern, was carried off well. But it went on too long.

Youth's texting mania, set as "#repost #xmasmajik" by Riti Sachdeva  at a school holiday dance, also was clever and well-designed. Its scrutiny of social-media isolation and occasional genuine connection had a nice flow to it.
The satirical thrust of Zack Neiditch's sketch on how everyone gets drawn into holiday marketing was keen. Anderson's direction of such pieces was boldly over-the-top, rich in caricature of gesture and voice — matched by the lighting, costumes, and sets.

The limits to the charm "Winston's Big Day" exerted on me go beyond my indifference to rock-star ambitions. Comparing this show to Fonseca Theatre Company's new version of the kind of production Bryan Fonseca pioneered for the Phoenix more than a dozen years ago, I suspect that the supply of irreverent brilliance about the Christmas season may be exhausted. Culturally, on the Santa side, once you get past S.J. Perelman's "Waiting for Santy" and David Sedaris' "Santaland Diaries," there's not much more in the stocking. On the Jesus side, fortunately in an era that may be beyond redemption, the birth of the Redeemer gets a pass in "Winston's Big Day."

Maybe I've had enough of churning up cheekiness about the holiday. As the ratbag mom Mandy says to the Three Wise Men mistakenly ready to worship her son in Monty Python's "Life of Brian": "Go and praise someone else's brat, go on."

And, if it's to your taste, rock on.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Songs of love: Mitzi Westra performs music by her husband, Frank Felice

Mezzo-soprano Mitzi Westra
The American art song hangs on to a corner of high musical culture, and there are so many distinguished examples of it that you have to wonder what market forces keep its profile so faint across the land.

An unusual example of a local composer providing a set of art-song showcases for a superb singer came our way Tuesday night at Butler University, when Mitzi Westra, assisted by Greg Martin at the piano, performed music of Frank Felice, a composer on the faculty and the mezzo-soprano's husband.

The Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall was nearly full for the program. I suspect that the gratifying attendance can be attributed not only to the strong reputations of performers and composer, but also to the excitement among many music-lovers at the prospect of a December concert with no connection to Christmas.

Three song cycles and a setting of a Hildegard von Bingen antiphon made up the program,  representing Felice's work over a 30-year span. The opening cycle seemed to reflect an expressionist aesthetic, perhaps attributable to the relative isolation of the young composer in eastern Wyoming in 1989. Felice's program note on "Four Songs of Jennifer Haines" indicates more than a simpatico relationship to Jennifer Haines Bennett's texts, since he also tweaked her verse to give more thematic unity to the cycle.

The four resulting poems, freshly assembled for the sake of the music, are full of youthful self-doubt and a lively curiosity about changing emotional states and a refusal to be weighed down by them. In the song settings, both piano and voice are given moments of intense flair, which Martin and Westra proved fully up to making the most of. I've always admired the range and subtlety of Westra's expressiveness: There was lots of it in the diminuendo last phrase of the first song, "A Wind Burnt Spot in the Dream" — "Is there always hope?" the singer asked with a credible tinge of skepticism.

Composer Frank Felice makes a case for the viability of the American art song.
A more playful side of Felice's muse comes through in "Letters to Derrick" (1995), a loosely assembled series of  excerpts from correspondence by Tammy Cutler Reanda. The work was written on a commission from baritone Derrick Pennix, the recipient of letters from Tammy, a young friend whom he had met on a cross-country bus trip. Westra's precise singing, a treasure on a technical basis alone, never wavered in expressive extras, like the shrug she applied to the lines apologizing for taking so long to write, or the edge of ferocity, in gesture and tone, she lent to Tammy's change of mind about a young swain: "At first, I thought he was cute and nice but then he got annoying and wouldn't leave me alone."

The more uproarious side of the sportive Felice gets an outing in "Sporting Life," with the juxtaposition of styles the composer alludes to in a program note whose touchstone is Charles Ives.  In the cheer-leading for Chicago sports teams that pervades the text, there is a headlong Ivesian acceleration near the end of short excursions through ragtime and march forms. And in "Last Lines," there is a clever evocation of music-box patterns from the piano as Tammy wishes Derrick Happy New Year.

There are fewer parodic elements in the outstanding duo Felice has written on a familiar text, Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." This poem has been treated by several composers, because its matter-of-fact rhetoric takes in a series of oblique, surrealistic ways of evoking the blackbird. I thought there was a touch of mordant fantasy in Felice's setting of "XI," which opens like this: "He rode over Connecticut / in a glass coach." Something about the anxiety hinted at in the accompaniment brought to mind Schubert's "Erlk├Ânig."

That may have been an association I imported to what I heard; the main point to emphasize is that there was tremendous variety in Felice's music that suited the restless innovations in Stevens' cubist poetry. And it was carried through by both musicians on stage. Especially effective was when the mezzo-soprano moved to the end of the piano opposite the keyboard and sang toward the strings, which resonated wonderfully as Martin applied the sustaining pedal. This gave Stevens' text a genuine gloss of a kingdom of artifice like Yeats's Byzantium. I also admired Felice's good taste in judging when to repeat words and when to present the text without doubling back.

The recital ended with Felice exhibiting another mode with the newest work, "O Virgo Ecclesia." The piano writing turned more chordal, with no filigree. And the majesty of Hildegard's plea for the salvation of the Church was unstinting. There is a dynamic shift toward mystery at "Salvatoris" (Latin genitive, "of the Savior"), managed breathtakingly by Martin and Westra, before the work ends with "unde filios illius requirit" (and therefore seeks your children), a long phrase well-sustained, despite one of the less open vowel sounds. It reminded me of the beauty of the last line of "Thirteen Ways": "in the cedar-limbs."  The same vowel was negotiated  and held without strain or excessive closing, and thus it perfectly introduced the hymnlike manner with which the piano concluded the piece. There seemed to be lots of student singers in the audience, and I trust they took note.

All told, this was a recital not to be missed. My favorable impressions of Mitzi Westra go back to 2013, at least, and I am well past denying that I'm a fan. But I hasten to add kudos for Greg Martin and for the adroit, sensitive, and fully persuasive manner of Frank Felice in keeping the American art song alive in the 21st century.