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Superstars at play

BFOM recital slightly revised
by Christopher Key

By the time tonight’s Bellingham Festival of Music recital was over, my program looked like a Pentagon flow chart, with arrows going every which way. Cellist Joshua Roman, soprano Heidi Grant Murphy and pianist Kevin Murphy decided they wanted to have a little fun and bring the audience along with them. I didn’t hear any complaints.

Roman got things underway with Boccherini’s Cello Sonata #6 in A Major, G.4. He is starting to mature a bit and looks somewhat less like a 12-year-old. Maybe it’s just the glasses. One thing he has not lost is the boyish charm which, when added to his technical wizardry, have made him a superstar. This was demonstrated just prior to his launching into a particularly difficult passage. He gave the audience a little half-smile that seemed to say “Watch this!” It was definitely worth watching.

Photo credit - Tina Su

Bellingham’s own Heidi Grant Murphy then took over. The internationally renowned soprano owns the stage as much as Roman does, but in an entirely different way. She was scheduled to perform three Mozart songs, but added a fourth, much to the delight of the audience. The lyrics are obviously in German, but Grant Murphy’s expressive face and body language provided a universal translation. Her voice is simply glorious and her control exquisite.

Photo credit - Jennifer Gasparian

That’s when things started to get rearranged. Grant was scheduled to perform Andre Previn’s Four Songs on Poems of Toni Morrison. That got scratched and Roman returned to perform Brahms’ Cello Sonata #1 in E minor, Op. 38, which was supposed to come just after intermission. He explained that the three performers had agreed to make some changes in order to accommodate a new closing number, to be announced after intermission. Need I mention that Roman played the sonata as though Brahms had written it for him?

Since I mentioned three performers, it’s time to acknowledge Kevin Murphy, who spent the evening accompanying Roman and his wife. He is a master accompanist, an underrated skill that is appreciated mainly by soloists. The BFOM audience is sophisticated enough to recognize that kind of talent and Murphy got the chance to rock out a bit during the Brahms sonata. He and his wife are known in New York as classical music’s power couple and that’s no media exaggeration.

After intermission, our homegrown soprano launched into Six Poemes, Op.38, by Rachmaninoff. These pieces enabled her to show off her power and range to go along with that exquisite control. Her warm stage presence captivated the audience again and the power couple demonstrated that a musical marriage works very well indeed.

The surprise ending was a selection from Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachiana Brasileiros, celebrating the Brazilian composer’s love for Bach. The works meld the precision of Bach with the passion of South America and gave all three musicians a chance to show off a bit. Oh yes, they were obviously having fun and so was the audience. The performance ended on a literal and figurative high note that had the audience on its feet.

Heidi Grant Murphy returns for the next BFOM concert on Wednesday. She will be joined by oboist Joseph Robinson, the Festival Orchestra and the Festival Chorus. It looks like a spectacular program and you can get your tickets by calling (360) 650-6146.

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