Westminster Choir College Alum Presents Exhilarating Recital as Part of Alumni Weekend
In the late 1970s, one particular voice studio at Westminster Choir College turned out amazing students. The singers in Lindsey Christiansen's vocal program had solid technique and unique voices full of character and individuality. These singers, sometimes recognizable by their perfect physical poise and stature when they sing, often turn up in professional choruses and opera companies throughout the country. Jennifer Larmore, a stand-out from that era of vocal pedagogy at Westminster and a former student of Ms. Christiansen, returned to the College last week to receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree, and to kick off the alumni weekend, presented a recital in Richardson Auditorium on Wednesday night. Ms. Larmore was joined in this performance by the Westminster Choir, conducted by her former teacher Joseph Flummerfelt; and was accompanied by her classmate Daniel Beckwith, a successful pianist in his own right.
Ms. Larmore chose to program Wednesday night's concert differently than the usual vocal recital. Rather than work through classical repertoire and end with lighter fare, she began with unusual folk arrangements and Americana. The six works of the first set were certainly not the more common folksongs, and Ms. Larmore seemed to set the tone for the entire recital with Roger Quilter's ethereal "Love's Philosophy." Ms. Larmore's dark and rich mezzo seized the audience from the start, and Mr. Beckwith had no trouble providing a fiery piano accompaniment. While Ms. Larmore luxuriated in her lower register in John Jacob Niles' "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair," she soared into the upper register in Patrick Hundley's "Heart, We Will Forget Him." She had no trouble conveying humor from the stage, as was apparent in Charles Ives's "Very Pleasant," and her facial expressions could match any text effectively.
Ms. Larmore met her first stretch of the concert in Mozart's vocal cantata, Ch'io mi scordi di te. She skipped over the touch coloratura with ease, a feat later repeated in Rossini's Ragata Veneziana. The dramatic song set by Rossini in particular demonstrated Ms. Larmore's animation and solid control over her voice while conveying a number of humorous effects.
When Ms. Larmore took breaks from solo singing, the audience was treated to another trip down Westminster's memory lane Joseph Flummerfelt conducting the Westminster Choir. Retired from the Choir College after 33 years as Director of Choral Activities, Dr. Flummerfelt showed that he still has control over the 40-voice vocal ensemble with a solid performance of Brahms' Zigeunerlieder. Dr. Flummerfelt kept the five choral selections precise and clean, with crisp diction and a well-blended choral sound. Steady piano accompaniment was provided by longtime Westminster accompanist Nancianne Parella.
The chorus returned with Ms. Larmore later in the concert for a sentimental performance of Schubert's Ständchen, a piece which Dr. Flummerfelt performed extensively on tour. The men's sections were particularly clean in this work, and the Schubertian interplay between soloist and chorus was entertaining and engaging. Ms. Larmore closed the concert with a sublime set of Debussy songs and two lively opera selections: Carmen's Habañera and the rarely-heard Entrance of Elizabeth I from Rossini's Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra.
Ms. Larmore is an inspiration to the current Westminster vocal students as to the possibilities in the professional opera and choral fields. She clearly has not forgotten her choral roots, and is comfortable in her role as a music leader as she works her way up the operatic ladder. If the rousing audience response to her concert on Wednesday night was any indication, she was no doubt a pleasure to have on the Westminster campus for the rest of the alumni activities.