Mark Gresham | 2 NOV 2022
On Friday evening the Nancy Frampton Rising Artist Series hosted a vocal recital by Atlanta-based soprano Jasmine Habersham in the sanctuary of Morningside Presbyterian Church, with the church’s organist/choirmaster Dr. Jonathan Crutchfield as her collaborative pianist.
The first half of the program came populated by opera excerpts: George Frederich Handel’s “Care selve” from Atalanta and “Se pietà di me non neri” from Giulio Cesare in Egitto, “Ruhe sanft” from W.A. Mozart’s Zaide, and “O quante lagrime” from Gioachino Rossini’s Othello (although he originally composed it for another opera, La donna del lago).
Habersham conveyed well the drama and emotion in each but, atypically, came across a little edgier than in her several most recent performances with The Atlanta Opera, including their November 2021 Giulio Cesare, in which she portrayed Cleopatra and “Se pietà” one of her arias. Crutchfield seemed to play a little on the cautious side in this set, more accompanist than an equal collaborative partner, which he rectified in much of the program’s second half.
The most interesting repertoire on the program came after intermission: five selections from Only Heaven by Ricky Ian Gordon (b. 1956), a cycle of 17 songs for medium high voice and piano on texts by Langston Hughes.
Habersham chose five of them for this program: “Heaven,” “In Time of Silver Rain,” “Dream Variations,” “Stars,” and “Daybreak in Alabama.”
Happily, Gordon’s music puts the poetry first without merely “setting the words,” capturing the literary nuances of the poems while taking their allusions a step beyond the level of recitation.
Habersham seemed at her most vocally free and expressive in these selections, beautifully communicating the range of emotional subtleties and vividness found in Hughes’ poetry.
Next came three songs from musical theater: “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, plus “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.
Habersham and Crutchfield then performed “His Name So Sweet,” a spiritual arranged by the Athens, Georgia composer Hall Johnson.
“Prelude” and “Rondo” from Cantata by award-winning jazz clarinetist and composer John Wallace Carter (1929-1991), closed the program.
The free, unmetered “Prelude” briefly introduces the Cantata, with the solo piano setting up a tranquil atmosphere before seamlessly transitioning into the “Rondo,” where the voice enters, based on a spiritual about St. Peter joyously ringing bells to let Christians know they are going to heaven.
For an encore, Habersham sang a very natural follow-up, the spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
Later this month, Jasmine Habersham is scheduled to perform as soprano soloist in Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and in early December as soloist in a Christmas Pops concert with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. ■
- Jasmine Habersham: jasminehabersham.com
- Dr. Jonathan Crutchfield: morningsidepc.org/dr-jonathan-crutchfield
- Nancy Frampton Rising Artist Series: morningsidepc.org/the-nancy-frampton-rising-artists-series