How is this for a Halloween story: Roland Martin thinks his new song cycle, "A Rose Beside the Water," is cursed.
You may have read about this song cycle. We have tracked its progress in Gusto. Martin wrote it to the poetry of Pablo Neruda. It was commissioned by Buffalo painter Catherine Parker, who created gorgeous paintings to go with the same poems that Martin chose to set to music.
A week and a half ago, Martin's song cycle had its premiere at Lippes Hall in Slee Hall. He played the piano, and Janz Castelo of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra played the lovely viola part. Alas, soprano Cristen Gregory was sick and could only get through one song. That meant that tenor Jeffrey Porter had to carry the load.
Luckily, another performance was scheduled Wednesday night in a concert by the Buffalo Chamber Players, the group of classical musicians led by Castelo.
But Wednesday, Porter was sick.
Martin, looking dazed, had to take up the slack, reading the poetry to the songs the tenor was supposed to have sung. It was a thrill, let's admit it, to hear the proper University at Buffalo prof read smoldering lines like "Your parallel body yields to my arms/like a fish infinitely fastened to my soul/quick and slow, in the energy under the sky." That is the kind of poetry we are dealing with here.
Gregory sang with sincerity, grace and strength. Her voice has the right darkness and depth for the sensual music. It was illuminating to see Parker's vivid paintings projected to the poems they depicted. The cycle continues to sound lovely, the piano writing varied and evocative -- in one song, the piano suggests the depth of the ocean; in another, the water's glassy surface. The viola echoes the voice in haunting ways.
A recording of the cycle is being planned, to be packaged in a book with Parker's paintings. Here's hoping!
The rest of Wednesday's concert showcased a shifting cast of musicians. Martin teamed with cellist David Schmude for "Louange a l'Eternite de Jesus," from Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time." It was a beautiful interlude, with the cellist's face rapt as he concentrated on the reverent melody lines.
Three Bach fugues arranged by Mozart for string trio, and fitted out by Mozart with new slow introductions, began the concert. They, too, were reverent -- on the grave side, but that could be simply the nature of the music. Castelo played these with cellist Feng Hew and violinist Shieh-Jian Tsai.
For Dvorak's String Quintet in G, Op. 77, Tsai and Schmude were joined by BPO violist Kate Holzemer and bassist Ann Pendle. The music had a rustic joy. The finale, channeling Mendelssohn, was a delight.
WHO: Buffalo Chamber Players
WHEN: Wednesday night
WHERE: Buffalo Seminary