Reviews ...

Polymnia's Pops

... varied, colorful, stunning!

by Jackie Wattenberg

The Polymnia Choral Society called its Spring Pops concert "A Tribute to Frank Sinatra," but it was more that that. Maybe Ol' Blue Eyes sang some of the songs presented, but the important thing was that Polymnia Conductor Murray Kidd presented many of the best songs from those 20th century days and found effective voices to sing them.

Getting the pops mood jumping right from the start Saturday evening at Memorial Hall was a terrific group of jazz-swing musicians. Usually those names come near the end of a review, but they deserve to be right at the top for their color and talent: Larry Pyatt, trumpet, who plays with the Boston Pops Orchestra; Joe McEttrick, trombone; Charles Gabriel, Bass; Aaron Trant, drums; and Ryan Fleming, guitar. Their blazing brassiness set the tone for those old swing days of Sinatra, jiving (is that close?) throughout the evening in songs with the many good vocalists. And when their power had to hold back for a singer's prominence, drummer Trant softened his touch but maintained good supportive backing.

The chorus was in good form, but the soloists grabbed stardom. A new name for a soloist, Karl Geller, took on Sinatra's old theme from "New York, New York," and put it over in easeful rhythm and swing style, seeming as relaxed and cool as Frankie himself. We were glad to see he had another solo later in the program--the great Rodgers and Hart's "The Lady is a Tramp." The only question for Kidd in an otherwise marvelous show was why the great brasstones covered the singer's appealing voice?

Kidd was shrewd to bring in a popular Irish baritone in New England, Brendan Carroll, whose voice is rich and moving, and his style totally unaffected. He performed with a group of Polymnia's men in an early Celtic "Dulaman," a rhythmically jiggy song in which he merely leaped up to high staccato notes; no chance for his beautiful legato. An expertly done, really fast Irish dance by Madeline Frasca, a high school winner of Polymnia's Spotlight on High School Talent, won deserved applause from the enthusiastic audience, most of whom were seated at tables. Special for this dance was an Irish wood flute, played by Lisa Coin.

In a break with tradition, after the first intermission when curtains went up, the stage was empty except for the piano at one side, as pianist Dorothy Travis and singer Dayna Brown, a guest soloist, began the distinctive and provocative "Send in the Clowns" by Sondheim. Soon we saw why the stage was cleared: A ballet progressed through the song, with young Alexandra Daniels and Joseph Jefferies of Northeast Youth Ballet, charmingly expressing the song's conflicts in choreography by Denise Cecere. Ms. Brown sang several solos, varying her style for each song, presenting the song's message simply and beautifully.

The first soloist of the evening was another Travis--Evans Travis, pianist Dorothy's husband, who brought out nice dark, low baritone tones to put over Johnny Mercer's "Dream." Another bariton, Thann Scoggins, also dipped into attractive low register for a short bit in "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning;" "On May Own," from the great "Les Miserables," held the music's richness in the alto voice of Judy Leisk, with an interesting key modulation; and the rhythmic "I'm Getting Sentimental Over Your" was put over by Jill Goldman in soft soprano tones, but she could drop effectively into low register, too.  

Alto Jessica McGuire put over a peppy "I'm Beginning to See the Light" by Duke Ellington, with lots of energy and spirit. Young Lilah Drafts-Johnson, another winner of Polymnia's High School Talent search, stood modestly and calmly as she sang "Rolling in the Deep" in lovely, assured soprano tones. Now just a freshman, what will she sound like as a junior or senior?

For a bit of fun, Polymnia member Peggie Morris recited the tale of "Pinderella" in bright and lively style.

There was a bit of mystery as Conductor Kidd took over center stage to sing a long piece a few centuries before Sinatra's span--a medieval "Media Vita." His solo role here was curiously absent from the program, but he was impressive. His voice sounded in the medium range, an unhesitating legato rising easily above or dropping below the staff with alacrity, and ever-even quality projecting warmth and spirit as called for. He is also at ease in talking to his audience, here telling a little about Sinatra--his birth at 13 pounds and not yet breathing; his yearning to sing when very young; and, of course, succeeding to great heights.

But the program was more about Kidd and his performers, highlighting those terrific band players. Trumpeter Larry Pyatt has been a first trumpeter in great bands led by great leaders such as Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton, and performed with famed signers Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr. (my favorite), and Johnny Mathis.

No matter what your top taste in music, there isn't anything to grab your full attention and delight better than the forceful outpouring of great brass band players! For the season's last performance, this was a great show!

This article is reprinted by permission from the Melrose Free Press, June 9, 2011.


July 1, 2011




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