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Music Review: Judith Jenkins' vocals soar in Winds' 'Soprano Story'

Monday, January 26, 2004

By Jane Vranish. Pittsburgh post-Gazette

Rather than a chamber concert, The Renaissance City Winds' "Soprano Story," featuring Judith Jenkins, turned out to be a recital presented by the Pittsburgh ensemble but featuring area musicians.

Friday's performance at Carlow College's Kresge Theater involved a collaboration in which Jenkins, a vocal instructor at Point Park University and district winner of the Metropolitan auditions, was joined by flutist Beverly Crawford (Duquesne University), clarinetist Jeanne Frieben (West Virginia University) and pianist Paul Sisco (Chatham College).

It was Frieben and Sisco who opened the evening with Martin Katz's "Para Fred," a trio of Spanish songs for clarinet and piano. Frieben unveiled a robust sound (although there were occasional intonation problems in the lower register), forthright and technically powerful, but without the flair that the Spanish idiom usually conjures in the mind. Likewise, Sisco responded with a detached accompaniment.

Sisco then warmed to the spotlight in his own composition, "Dimensions for solo piano," where he opened the musical gates between surging romantic arpeggios and impressionistic chords, repeated with delicate hand crossings. The effect was one of exploration, but was brought to a traditional conclusion with a chorale.

He then teamed with Crawford for Efrain Amaya's "Malagigi the Sorcerer." It was a piece that was ripe with swirling magical elements -- breathy flute tones, piccolo passages and assorted musical punctuations involving a rain stick, a water goblet and claves. Crawford held back ever so slightly on the pungent musical imagery, unable to reach heavy mystical proportions, but was appealing nonetheless.

The most alluring moments came with Jenkins' portion of the program, blessed as she is with a rich, hypnotic voice that is notable for its beauty and control.

She began with two songs for soprano, flute and clarinet. Greensburg native Mildred Gardner's "The Daisies" was clogged by a chain of instrumental notes that obscured the vocal part. But Aaron Copland's "As It Fell Upon a Day," while not as bright as it might have been, displayed a fresh breath of natural beauty in the organic exchanges and bird-like elements.

Jenkins reached her peak in the program finale, Louis Spohr's "Six German Songs," with Frieben and Sisco at her side. Sisco changed his approach, turbulent and flowing in his accompaniment, and Frieben smoothly conquered the virtuosic arpeggios and runs.

Her dialogue with Jenkins was well-matched for its velvety tone, with Jenkins conveying, in turn, passion, tenderness and a sublime generosity of spirit.

Post-Gazette staff writer Jane Vranish can be reached .

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