One of the great things about life in Rochester is all the world-class music. Music here is anchored, naturally, by the Eastman School of Music and the Rochester Philharmonic, but there are also strong music programs at Nazareth College, on the east side of the city, and Roberts Wesleyan College, on the west. There’s a lot more music than even a dedicated music-lover like Emsworth has time to take in.
But we were very glad last evening (November 21, 2008) to have joined a large and enthusiastic audience at the Shewan Recital Hall on the Roberts Wesleyan campus for a recital by baritone Jeffery McGhee and pianist Michael Landrum. We know Dr. Landrum well — there’s there’s no finer pianist in these parts — but somehow we had missed performances by Dr. McGhee till now.
Their program was sacred pieces, more of them familiar than not. Dr. McGhee has a marvelously rich baritone voice, heard to full effect on Mendelssohn’s “If With All Your Hearts,” with which he opened the recital, and on Aaron Copland’s “Zion’s Walls,” which we especially enjoyed. We were favorably struck with a new piece entitled “Himself,” composed by Daniel Barta in a style that reminded us of popular sacred songs from a century ago. Like the two performers, Barta is on the Roberts Wesleyan faculty.
Dr. McGhee has an exceptional physical presence, relaxed and expressive, no doubt attributable to his work in musical theater. His gestures and body language significantly enhance his vocal performances. He seemed to be one with his pianist as to how these pieces should be interpreted; Dr. Landrum consistently anticipated his vocalist’s use of rubato and his dynamics.
We were especially intrigued with two piano solo pieces with which Dr. Landrum gave his vocalist a chance to rest halfway through the recital. The composer was the African-Englishman Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), and the pieces were from an obscure collection of arrangements of folk hymns — just the sort of off-the-beaten-track repertoire that Dr. Landrum delights in bringing to the light of day. We recognized the melody of “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”; we also liked very much the unfamiliar southern folk song “Let Us Cheer the Weary Traveler.”