The Shakespeare Concerts at the Boston Public Library

By John R. Pierce

This afternoon I was fortunate to attend a very interesting program, the Shakespeare Concerts 2004 Boston performance at Rabb Hall in the Boston Public Library.

With the exception of one piece for piano solo, the program consisted of settings of texts of Shakespeare to music, by composer Joseph Summer, who was in attendance, and by Johannes Brahms, Roger Quilter, Franz Schubert, and Martin Shaw. All of the musicians were excellent. In a performance of Shakespeare texts, I was especially glad that all the singers communicated the words so effectively.

The program got off to a very good start with Loretta Pennington singing “O mistress mine,” a delightfully elegant song by the late British composer Roger Quilter. Ms. Pennington, a soprano born in New Zealand, studied in Australia and currently resides in London.

There followed four selections by Joseph Summer. I was most moved by “He took me by the wrist,” a setting of text from Hamlet, Act II, scene 2, in which Ophelia tells her father of Hamlet’s visit to her as she was sewing in her closet. The music, well suited to the drama of the scene, gave Maria Ferrante, a slim good-looking woman, who looked like Ophelia, and, more importantly, was a very convincing actress with clear enunciation, an opportunity to convey Ophelia’s emotions in a stunning manner. One could well imagine that this distraught character would later commit suicide.

Diane Thornton, a contralto who performs extensively throughout the southeastern United States, sang the Five Ophelia Songs of Brahms. The songs passed all too quickly. I would enjoy hearing Ms. Thornton in a solo recital.

The second half of the program met the same high standard as the first. Among the selections, “The Dumbshow,” music by Joseph Summer played by Miroslav Sekera, solo piano, showed that Mr. Summer can write interesting music without a text as stimulus. “If by your art” gave Maria Ferrante another chance to create an interesting character, Miranda in The Tempest, accompanied by harpist Anna Reinersman. Paul Vincent, baritone, sang Schubert’s famous “Was ist Sylvia (Who is Sylvia)” quite well, to the audience’s pleasure. Julie-Dawn Lloyd and Zhanna Alkhazova, sopranos, sang a delightful duet, “I know a bank” to music of Martin Shaw. The program ended with Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be” ably sung by tenor Alan Schneider to music of Joseph Summer. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire program, and don’t mean to slight in any way the pieces and performers that I have not commend on individually.