James A. [tenor, conductor] Johnson
Price: $1.00; $.50 extra for reserved seat
26 June 2021
“A concert of those old madrigals, that will never be out of date, let what schools may hold sway over the musical forms of any one generation, was given at Steinway Hall last evening by a very competent chorus of about sixty voices under the direction of Mr. James A. Johnson. These glees pleased our great grandfathers three hundred years ago, and they are as fresh now as when they were first sung, and always will remain so, for the reason that they rest on the basis of truth in melody and in structure. When a curved line ceases to be graceful, then these melodious compositions will lose their charm, and not before. The madrigals alternated with quartets, and there were two solos. The singing throughout was excellent—not so good, perhaps, as at the first madrigal concert given a year or more ago, for the reason that since then a number of the most prominent singers have fallen out of the ranks, and in fact resolved themselves into another society that sings only privately. But the public owe their gratitude to those who have continued the work, and kept up the interest in this charming music, and they certainly manifested it by their numbers, quite filling Steinway Hall, and by the evident pleasure with which the efforts of the singers were received.”
“The concert of glees and madrigals, given last evening at Steinway Hall, attracted to that place a very large audience, and afforded unbounded satisfaction. There is little likelihood that a frequency of such affairs would have as great an influence, for there is a variety in dramatic music that the older compositions do not possess; but an occasional performance, such as occurred yesterday, is interesting and novel in the extreme. The programme included sixteen numbers, bearing respectively the names of T. Brewer (1690,) Whittaker, Mendelssohn, Fr. Abt, W. Horsley, Schubert, Sir H. Bishop, Benedict, R. J. S. Stevens, T. Ford (1607) and T. Morley (1590.) Sixty singers interpreted it with an unanimity of spirit and science deserving the warmest praise. Almost all the pieces were repeated, in part at least. Schubert’s very characteristic song of ‘The Post Horn’ was the first solo of the evening and was admirably rendered by Miss Ella Mayer. Mendelssohn’s superb chorus of ‘The Victors’ Return’ was the most conspicuous quartet element, and was interpreted from the opening verse to those closing lines of each stanza so thoroughly suggestive of the advancing tramp of an armed host, with unfailing power of expression and with the broadest effect. Among the other features were to be noted Miss C. V. Hutchings’ pathetic rendering of ‘By the Sad Sea Waves;’ Miss M. H. Hindle’s execution of the ballad of ‘The Erl King,’ which really needs the explanatory text the hearers were provided with; a harmonization of ‘Dorothy,’ a Swabian melody of decided originality, brightness and fluency, and a very fine recital of the glee, ‘Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind.”
“There is no more decided evidence of the progress of music in this city than is to be found in the great increase of the number of our musical organizations. These have sprung up on every side within a few years past, and many of them are in the habit of giving private concerts in the large public halls, to which as many as two or three thousand persons are invited. Such a concert was that given a few evenings since by the club under the direction of Mr. Rivarde at Apollo Hall, and of the same kind was that given last Wednesday at Steinway Hall by the Church Music Association. On Wednesday evening of next week two other amateur organizations give private concerts, the Eight O’Clock Club, a Society under Mr. Abella’s direction, devoted to Italian music, and the Mendelssohn Glee Club, of which Mr. Mosenthal is the conductor, and which is composed of male voices and practices only German part songs. The Church Music Association gives itself to the study of Mass music and such large vocal works as Von Weber’s Oberon, while the Rivarde Club in turn is exclusively Italian in its inclinations. But no one of these societies has possessed itself of such a delightful field as that occupied by the Madrigal Society that gave its first concert of the season at Steinway Hall last evening. In the days when the Italian composers were more severe in their studies and in their works than they are at present, they gave themselves much to the production of madrigal music. But Italy has forgotten all its cunning in this direction, and England became the inheritor of its knowledge. Ford and Morley and Wilbye and Brewer applied their musical erudition to the production of this class of composition. Simple in its general structure, but full of subtle knowledge, of counterpoint, of quaint and unexpected conceits, of varied harmonies, of skillful treatment of the middle voices, these compositions are at the same time charming to the uncultivated ear, and full of interest to the profoundest musician. Nor can the study of them fail to repay those who engage in it, by refining and cultivating a taste for the highest forms of vocal art.
“It was pleasant, therefore, to find Mr. Johnson’s Society so heartily greeted and so warmly appreciated as it was by the large audience that filled Steinway Hall last evening.
“The voices are still somewhat rough, and lacking in the fine polish that comes only from long training and a habit of singing constantly together, but they gave the spirit of the music with excellent effect, sang with much precision and regard to light and shade, and to the points that constitute good part singing, and which their leader knows so well.
“Some of the madrigals were those sung by the Society last Winter. Others were new, and of these latter the most enjoyable were, perhaps, the two Shakespearean glees by Stevens, ‘Blow, Blow, thou Winter Wind,’ and ‘Ye Spotted Snakes.’ Of the two it is difficult to say which was better. Mr. Johnson in the first-named glee has made the innovation of contrasting the andante with the allegro by assigning the former to a single quartette, the latter to the chorus, an arrangement that resulted with excellent effect. Most of the singers were amateurs, and too close criticism would be perhaps somewhat ungracious, especially where there was so much that was entirely praiseworthy.
“The piece that was most remarkable of all on the programme, both for its exquisite poetical beauty as a composition, and also for the thorough finish with which it was given, was, beyond a doubt, Horsley’s glee ‘By Celia’s Arbor.’ The almost faultless singing of this composition reflected the greatest credit upon Miss Hutchings and Messrs. Roosevelt, Roper, and Keith.
“The programme was properly varied with earnest and quiet madrigals, and some bright and humorous ones. Of the former class was Ford’s ‘There is a Ladie Sweete and Kinde,’ composed in 1607, and written in one of the old ecclesiastical keys, much affected by the early composers, but now seldom resorted to, though they have a weird, quaint beauty of their own, and surprise and delight by the unexpectedness of their intervals. Gounod has in several instances resorted with good effect to these almost forgotten modes, as, for instance, in the King of Thule in Faust.
“We trust that this Society will recruit its strength with some good solo voices, the deficiency in which respect was quite manifest in one of the quartets sung, and that they will hold together and continue in the good work they have in hand.”