Two weekends in February, two highly successful concerts, both under the aegis of UVM's Lane Series, a local presenter with an unquestionably topnotch record for bringing Vermont world-class musical groups, be it either popular music or classical. Cases in point: the appearance of the jazz vocalist Jane Monheit and her trio followed by the most talked-about the string quartet in the world today, the Ebene Quartet.
The concert Feb. 13, was the annual Valentine's Day celebration for the Lane Series, and this year brought us Jane Monheit and her trio.
Monheit is in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and of Keeley Smith at Dakota Staton. It is also the tradition of the Great American Songbook, the works of Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and others equally famous. In addition to these standards, Monheit is accomplished in Brazilian popular music as well as more contemporary American composers. Her method of delivery is exactly right. That she takes some songs at a nontraditional speed is not a matter of concern-remember Streisand and one of her earliest recordings, 'Happy days are here again'.
Technically her voice encompasses quite a nice range, with its especially plangent lower voice, and she uses her voice freely in the service of the music. My only concern centered around the questionable intonation Monheit sometimes employed, especially in the Brazilian part of her repertoire and of some of the more contemporary ballads (to be certain that I heard what I thought I heard at the concert itself, I listened to two of her CDs, and found misintonations in several of the tracks). Prescinding from that, it was a marvelous evening.
The Trio carried me back to my college days, when I used to go with friends to the lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, CA and listen to West Coast jazz. I loved every minute of it.
One thing I missed? She didn't sing 'My Funny Valentine' despite the fact that Valentine's Day was the next day. Oh, well, you can't win them all.
Feb. 19, found me at the Redstone Recital Hall; same time, same place, same seat. This time the proceedings were more formal. The Ebene String Quartet was making its Lane Series debut with pianist Orion Weiss, whose presence was necessitated because one of the Quartet members was out on medical leave.
There program opened with a Schubert string trio, and from the first notes played there went forth a clarion call that this was not going to be an ordinary concert. And that premonition turned out to be on the nose, because the entire evening was spent on musical Cloud Nine or wafted off to seventh heaven.
The Faur Piano Quartet is an amazing work in just one particular way-Faur did not follow Richard Wagner ideologically, but no matter to what method of composition the work belongs, it's sound, it's syntax rings with Wagnerian Sonorities. The performance was totally breathtaking, not only in its self, but in a performance that shone the most brilliant musical light possible on the pages of the score. Every nuance, every musical marking was realized. It was a flawless performance.
After the break they offered us the Brahms Piano Quartet, called the 'Werther', and the group's playing suffered no letdown, not the smallest flaw or mistaken intonation, just Brahms at his supreme best. How the four musicians and especially the string players manage performances of this supreme quality is quite beyond me, but they do. They do. No matter how well they might discuss the mechanics of the works performed, there is not the slightest air of pedantry about their performing, which is chock-full of emotion that never descends into bathos, but is controlled in a way that only the best musicians in the world can control.
When the evening was complete, not only was I not exhausted, I was actually more awake than I had been when the evening started, and I conclude in the face of such musicianship that these are truly world class performers. I feel blessed to been able to see and to hear such incredible musicians.
And yet I know from here on out I will perhaps have to be content with A-level musicians, but the extraordinary-the AAA-level players-are here to wake us up from our complacency, lest we lose hope in the world.