Sunday, October 21, 2012

Baritone Leon Williams Gives Charismatic Performances on Naxos CD of 'Appalachia' and 'Sea Drift' of Frederick Delius, Born 150 Years Ago

[Delius: Appalachia, Sea Drift; Leon Williams, Baritone; The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, James K. Bass; The Florida Orchestra, Stefan Sanderling; Naxos 8.572764 (2012)]

On September 25, 2012 AfriClassical posted “Baritone Leon Williams onNaxos CD of Music of Delius, With The Florida Orchestra, ReleasedSeptember 25, 2012.” Recording has been a regular part of the singer's career. Prior titles are Handfuls (2005), The Art of Leon Williams (2007), In The Garden (2009) and Leon Sings Noel (2010). He brings charisma and complete credibility to his role. It is easy to see how he was matched to the part.

New York born American baritone Leon Williams has earned a fine reputation on several continents for his warm, rich baritone voice, his charismatic personality and his impassioned interpretation of works ranging from cantatas of Bach to hits of Broadway. He has performed in Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and the White House. An alumnus of the Harlem Boys Choir and a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music, he toured for almost two years across the country in the national touring company of "Ragtime."

Passionately devoted to the art of the song, Mr.Williams has performed Brahms’ Vier ernste Gesänge with Sarah Rothenberg and the Da Camera Society of Houston (to which he returned for a special program of the music of Charles Wuorinen); an "Art of the Spiritual" program at San Francisco's Herbst Theater; an all-American program at Japan's Tochigi Music Festival and Maine's Arcady Music Festival; and given recitals in Hartford, Pittsburgh, Princeton and throughout his native New York City, including Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Hall (the songs of Richard Hundley) and the 92nd Street Y (a much-acclaimed all-Poulenc program with Michel Sénéchal and Dalton Baldwin).

He recently added two new roles to his operatic repertoire: Anthony in Sondheim's Sweeney Todd (Toledo Opera) and Papageno in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Hawaii Opera Theatre), both meeting with unanimous critical and public acclaim. A much-in-demand Porgy and Bess principal, he sang Porgy in with Yuri Temirkanov conducting the performance in St. Petersburg, Russia; Sportin' Life with Markand Thakar and the Duluth-Superior Symphony and Jake in the Dallas Opera production. Mr. Williams has won top prizes in the Naumburg, Joy-in-Singing, and Lola Wilson Hayes Competitions.

The New York Times reviewed Leon Williams' performance in the "Three Villon Balades" — "Leon Williams was outstanding — light but decisive, witty, expressive and adept with the words." The Honolulu Star-Bulletin offered "Leon Williams with his vibrant baritone and strong acting made a delightful Papgeno, stealing the focus in virtually every scene” on William’s performance in 'The Magic Flute.'"

The composer Frederick Delius was born 150 years ago; the sesquicentennial year of 2012 has spawned a huge number of recordings. Some, including the Naxos CD of Appalachia and Sea Drift, have been supported in part by The Delius Trust. The joint website of The Delius Trust and the Delius Society, summarizes the composer's life succinctly:

Born in England 1862

Lived & worked in Florida, Germany, Norway & France
Died in France 1934
Buried in England 1935

The Delius website discusses this recording:
Both works were recorded 'live and in concert' during this past season's Tampa Bay Times Masterworks program Celebrate Delius at the two performances at the Progress Energy Centre for the Arts Mahaffey Theatre on January 6th and 7th 2012.
Delius lived briefly in Florida, along the St. John's River some 35 miles south of Jacksonville in an area called Solano Grove. It was there that he first heard American plantation songs, which both inspired him as a composer and left such a unique musical signature on many of his works.

Orchestra President and CEO Michael Pastreich said, "In past seasons, our orchestra has performed highlights from Delius' Irmelin and The Florida Suite, and we have performed such miniatures of his as On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and The Walk to the Paradise Garden on various occasions. However, this was the first time The Florida Orchestra had performed and then recorded these more significant works of Sea Drift and Appalachia. We hope these initiatives on our part help to raise the awareness and enjoyment of Delius' music, in particularly his major works, which are so rich in musical and emotional nuances." relates:
Appalachia (a native American word for North America) is a set of variations based on a slave song about the tragedy of the cotton planters ‘being sold down the river’. Delius heard the song when teaching the violin in Virginia, but the primary inspiration was his formative experience of the semi-tropical beauty of Florida’s Solano Grove where he had managed an orange plantation. In Sea Drift Delius absorbed a further American influence in the nature mysticism of Walt Whitman. The symphonic poem, one of his greatest works, is a song of love and death in which the baritone soloist is both a participant in the drama and offers a commentary upon it.”

The liner notes include the complete lyrics of both Appalachia and Sea Drift. The Florida Orchestra is conducted by Stefan Sanderling. Baritone Leon Williams alternates with The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, directed by James K. Bass. In Appalachia, The Florida Orchestra performs an exquisite instrumental introduction of several minutes before Leon Williams and the chorus make their appearances.  

Those who are new to the composer's music will have good reason to explore some of the many other recordings of Frederick Delius which are now available. Newcomers to the singing of Leon Williams can take advantage of his frequent appearances and his four earlier recordings.

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