HAPPILY FOR THE SC CHAMBER PLAYERS and its Sunday audience, composer/pianist Chris Pratorius-Gómez returned as the program’s artistic director with his muse, SF Bay Area soprano Carolyne Anne “CA” Jordan. This gifted vocal artist, who has performed and recorded numerous Pratorius works, sings with an unfettered authority, even in the less than ideal circumstances of SCCP’s regular venue, Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos, adjacent to the noisy traffic on Highway 1. (Motorcycles are the worst offenders.)
But in this case, she was not called on to sing any Pratorius. Rather, with him at the piano, she opened the program with three songs by the exquisite Reynaldo Hahn, including his ‘greatest hit’ love song, À Chloris. To the lushly romantic verse, by Théophile de Viau, the accompaniment is of a spare, almost baroque character. (Played on a harpsichord, it could probably fool some into thinking it was composed in the Baroque.) Of no less fragile seduction were Hahn’s settings of two Paul Verlaine verses, Offrande and L’Heure exquise. Perhaps I am wrong; these songs equal À Chloris in every essential respect.
Jordan would then go on to sing Claude Debussy’s Ariettes oubliées, six songs to verses by Verlaine, including Offrande, but here called Aquarelles I. Green. These pieces deserve to be heard more often, but with Jordan singing them I am not complaining, only grateful. Her pianist here was David Long, who glanced at the score only occasionally. Could it be that these two collaborators have just lately performed them? In Merry-go-round he was so busy with the spinning keyboard part that he had obviously memorized the piece.
Between the two vocal works, Pratorius introduced his own variations on a 16th century “soneto” by Enriquez de Valderrábano. The piece was an arrangement for piano, flute/piccolo (Lars Johannesson) and cello (Kristin Garbeff) from a concerto he had written in 2011 for the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. (In his program note, Pratorius admitted being “obsessed” with Valderrábano’s music.) Indeed, near the end of the concert were two of the composer’s sonetos, each presented in plain then ornamented style arranged by Pratorius for alto flute, cello and piano, again with Long at the keyboard.
Opening the second half of the afternoon, Pratorius and Long fabulously played the five movements, piano, four hands, of Maurice Ravel’s fairytale Ma mere l’Oye. The concert concluded with the world premiere of Pratorius’ La muerta, a setting of a poem by Pablo Neruda for piano and wind-blown melodica, alto flute/piccolo, cello and, in this case, tenor Andrew Scott Carter. Pratorius read an English translation of the verse before performing at the keyboard(s). It’s an ambitious, 11-minute piece that alternates from slow and languorous to dancing and marching, portraying the narrator as having to continue living after the death of his lover so long as there remains injustice in the world. As such, it requires the singer to explore a full range of feelings and to repeat sections of the verse multiple times. (I think it could be shortened a bit for greater impact.)
Across the board, this was an exceptionally fine concert, with professional quality music making from all participants. Alas, there was room enough for 1/3 more audience attendance. And, also alas, it was the final concert for SCCP executive director Michael Stamp, retiring after two decades on the job. He was feted and speechified at the interval.