Reviews ...

Polymnia puts a Spring in our steps

... local talent featured at Pops concert

from Michelle Graveline

The Polymnia Choral Society brought their season to an exhilarating close on June 5 with an enjoyable Spring Pops that featured delights from the Broadway stage, jazz standards, and a nice mix of popular music gems.

The program featured three talented high school students. The first was jazz composer/pianist Eva Gertz, whose impressive jazz composition “Blues Mission” opened the concert.  Ms. Gertz led from the piano, and her work also included solos for the superb jazz ensemble from Lowell, “The Majors.”

The other two students were winners of Polymnia’s High School Musical Theatre contest. Maria Krol-Sinclair gave a powerful rendition of “Stranger to the Rain” from the musical “Children of Eden.” A student at Boston University Academy, Krol-Sinclair, sang with great stage presence and maturity. David Travis sang Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” with a smoothness and flair that was reminiscent of Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick,Jr. Travis, a 2010 graduate of Melrose High School, also performed with style and sophistication in a classy adaptation of “Sway,” and then danced with a partner while the chorus took up the song with great rhythm and pizzazz.

The evening saw a special tribute to longtime Polymnia member Erna Hooten, who celebrated her 50th year as a singer in the chorus. Giving a deeply moving performance of “Vienna, My City of Dreams” in her native German, Hooten showed that her voice still maintained the vibrancy and sumptuousness of a trained singer. Indeed, her early training in the opera choruses of Europe has served her well, and she received a well-deserved standing ovation from the large audience in Memorial Hall.

Under Murray Kidd’s expert direction, the chorus showed their grasp of jazz and popular styles with three classics from the Great American Songbook: “Moon River,” “Blue Tango,” and “Begin the Beguine.”  For an interlude, accompanist Dorothy Travis and chorus member Judy Leisk skillfully played a scintillating four-hand arrangement of “Blue Tango.” “Le Festin” from the Disney film “Ratatouille” featured the lyrical soprano voice of chorus member Amy Stetten. “Double Trouble” from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” was ably sung by the chorus alone.

The talents of individual chorus members were on display in some first-rate solo numbers. The popular jazz standard “Alright, Okay, You Win” was given a smart and lively performance by baritone Karl Geller. Polymnia President and tenor Steve Francis melted the heart of every woman in the audience with his passionate singing of Phil Coulter’s “Recuerdame.” The rich and resonant mezzo-soprano tones of Eileen Christiansen were perfectly suited for the beautiful Sondheim ballad, “I Remember.” Soprano Kristan Camp demonstrated her wide vocal range and stylish jazz singing in “Cry Me a River,” with a fine arrangement for jazz ensemble by Murray Kidd.

Director Kidd, an outstanding singer himself, surprised the audience by twirling around and with great flair, sang the opening solo of “Transylvania Mania” from Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein.” Rapidly alternating between soloist and chorus, this campy, flapper-style show number was a monster hit. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

A distinctive treat was the singing of the women’s a cappella ensemble from the chorus, Muse-ings. Singing perfectly in tune, they gave a supple performance of Gershwin’s “Embraceable You.”

Special guest jazz singer Dayna Brown was featured in a series of songs made popular by Rosemary Clooney. Her rich and earthy tones were on display in “At Last,” with several verses featuring excellent jazz solos by saxophonist Nick Dragoni and guitarist Ken Budka. Clooney’s big hit “Mambo Italiano” showed Brown’s ringing tones and vivacious stage personality, and she gave a delightfully sassy performance of “Botch-a-Me,” in a hip arrangement for solo, chorus and jazz ensemble composed by chorus member Bob Eggers.

Throughout the concert, the chorus demonstrated a full and well-balanced choral sound. The evening ended with the rich jazz chords of “Hey There” from “Pajama Game,” a swinging number that had the appreciative audience leaving with a spring in their steps. Kudos to Director Murray Kidd and Polymnia’s accompanist, the incomparable Dorothy Travis, for pulling off a smashing evening of entertainment.

Michelle Graveline is Professor of Music at Assumption College in Worcester and the former director of the Polymnia Choral Society from 2002-2007.

July 2, 2010

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