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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Walton’s Façade: An Entertainment’ built for whimsy in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Weidner Philharmonic

Note about changes, with photos of poet Edith Sitwell and composer William Walton. (Warren Gerds amalgamation)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – It seemed like a good idea – a concert blending comical poetry with jaunty music in an outdoor setting. The Weidner Philharmonic would perform in Green Bay Botanical Garden on a Sunday afternoon. It didn’t happen. Twice.

The concert did happen Sunday afternoon, but by way of the suddenly good ol’ standby, the Internet. The performance was livestreamed on the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts’ YouTube channel.

The performance took place on the stage of Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center, complete with garden-like flora and foliage.

Weidner Philharmonic on Cofrin Family Hall stage. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

Missing at the end was applause that would have followed a performance at the Green Bay Botanical Garden. It was a nifty performance – exotic literary/musical fare riding on waves of whimsy.

This is just me: I don’t know if the performance would have come off as well as an outdoor, in-person experience. The poems of Edith Sitwell in “Walton’s Façade – An Entertainment” are akin to colorful, joyous blossoms. Words are pedals, tossed at the listener at different speeds, depending on the type of flower. Each pedal has a delicacy – a need to be seen/heard for imagery and, often, humorous hues. This is just me: Outdoors with an audience reacting, what was spoken to music might have come off as a blur.

Regardless, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music – the Weidner Philharmonic is its baby – found a playful treasure from almost 100 years ago. Fun and funny is fun and funny, regardless of time.

One discovery: In one selection, the performer whips through words in a clipped rhythm at warp speed to music. It’s a whole lot like rap. From 1922.

Much can be discovered in the performance, which remains available. Check the Weidner Center’s Facebook page for access.

The program covers a multitude of musical styles that composer William Walton struts through, inspired by the far-flown brainwork of Edith Sitwell. The individual musicians romp on myriad adventures with their instruments. With Randall Meder in a flowery shirt surely directing, they play, with skill, many styles of music they otherwise wouldn’t play. My attempts to describe the action is below, piece by piece.

Courtney Sherman. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

Narrator Courtney Sherman is phenomenal. She is into the rhythms and pauses and nuances and shadings and color and teasings and stylings of the words. Courtney Sherman put in serious time on diction – the voice proper English… the loft, the clarity, the precision, the sheen. She enacts each line, adding a physicality to words. At the same time, much is mocking, teasing, satirizing by Edith Sitwell. She many times is a British poetic version of “Saturday Night Live.” All the time, words to her are clay to be molded every which way that pleases her mood, and then glazed with wit.

***

“Walton’s Façade: An Entertainment” (1922), a series of poems by Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), accompanied by instrumentals composed by William Walton (1902-1983)

Conductor: Randall Meder

Musicians:

Kortney James – flute

Rich Tengowski – clarinet

Sam Stranz – saxophone

Adam Gaines – trumpet

Michael Dewhirst – cello

Bill Sallak – percussion

Narration – Courtney Sherman

Program

“Façade: An Entertainment”

“Fanfare”

A happy little band.

+ “Hornpipe”

Quick pace of voice… a rap!… Song like Popeye’s theme.

+ “En Famille”

Genteel flute. Proper English. Serious diction concentration. Voice is a rhythmic instrument. Floating. Teases Iowa and Minnesota.

+ “Mariner Man”

Pipe playing to quick quips of words.

+ “Long Steel Grass”

Fanfare-type trumpet leading into a rhythmic beat of voice fun-making. Mocking pretense.

“Through Gilded Trellises”

Clarinet opens … Playing with rhythms of voice opposite music’s quirkiness. Poems seem built for adventurous playful musical composition. “Time dies” – a statement of finality.

+ “Tango – Pasodoblé

Voice built on rhythm – with bursts of rapid-fire bits – music circus-like… gets back into lampooning “propriety.” Voice is composed for some syllables are notes.

+ “Lullaby for Jumbo”

Haunting sounds. Slower pace of voice, on a rhythm.

+ “Black Mrs. Behemoth”

Peppery sounds. And then haunty… eerie.

+ “Tarantella”

Quick rush of voice on circus cornball band sounds

+ “The Man from a Far Countree”

Softer tones in music and voice. Relaxed flow. Peacefulness. Playfulness in vocabulary.

+ “By the Lake”

Sweet sounds of music, words colder to match the season, December.

+ “Country Dance”

Dr. Seuss! in the beat and playfulness of words. Proper English voice, a bit holier than thou.

+ “Polka”

Perky, circusy, happy…. Trumpet loose mute.

+ “Four in the Morning”

Aura of solemnity in sound. A bit ominous.

+ “Something Lies Beyond the Scene”

Reveille-like opening. Perky music/voice on a rhythm.

+ “Valso”

Floats on voice-music rhythm. I wonder if Edith Sitwell would have chosen these rhythms; maybe not; she marched to own drummer.

+ “Swiss Jodelling Song”

Slower, like tippy-toeing.

+ “Scotch Rhapsody”

Rapid-fire in voice in Gilbert-and-Sullivan maritime pace. Courtney Sherman tosses in a flash of a Scottish brogue.

+ “Popular Song”

Flute open, with cello beat. Tone of tease, again, in quick-paced voice.

+ “Fox Trot (Old Sir Faulk)”

Struts a bit in voice rhythm.

“Façade 2; A Further Entertainment”

+ “Flourish – Came the Great Popinjay”

Cello deliberately offish in opener. Spoken bit.

+ “Aubade”

Clarinet sweet open, followed by cello, a comforting sound. Yearning sound of voice as it wraps into a rhythm. Shadowy aura…. Phrase: “the blunt rain” catches the brain. Voice alone for a change. Clarinet and cello close.

+ “March”

Drums start, into a rat-a-tat action in music and voice, with a word ending with a hanging note.

+ “Madame Mouse Trots”

Tone of spookiness. And a zip of a cat. A cat-and-mouse story.

+ “The Octogenarian”

Proper voice wrapping into a picture of a Fellini-like or mythological image.

+ “Gardener Janus Catches a Naiad”

Lighter quality of music. Shifts pace of sounds and imagery.

+ “Water Party”

Playful, with a beat, voice dances along in a waltz.

+ “Said King Pompey”

Mocking in motion of music and voice.

+ “When Sir Beelzebub”

Added flourish of voice.

Performance just ends. A few bows. No applause.

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