American Spirituals, thanks

baptisterion2As if Sunday’s successes of Red-tail and Hummingbird weren’t enough, a drive from Swarthmore’s concert to Abington took me to the loveliest of Lenten recitals given at Holy Trinity Lutheran, to American Spirituals, Book One played by violinist James Finegan, and two of the American Spirituals, Book Two played by cellist Elena Smith, all accompanied on piano by Ken Borrmann.

Jackie, sounding more beautiful than ever, sang excerpts from The Pilgrim’s Progress of Ralph Vaughan Williams and arrangements by Alice Parker.

James was simply brilliant: stunning, actually, in the outer movements “Sinner, Don’t Let This Harvest Pass” and “The Old Ship of Zion.” He lingered just enough over the slid notes, sometimes octaves, of “Sinner.” Man, I love solo violin octaves. “The Old Ship of Zion” is flat hard to play. He was all over it. So was Ken, tossing fistfuls of notes. In some ways, the simple, singing “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” is my favorite. Wish I could take credit for the tunes!

I could not have been prouder of Nellie for taking on the first two of the cello book of spirituals; first of all, for agreeing to try them, and second, for performing them with such love and passion. She dug into “Jesus, Master, O discover,” and “When the stars begin to fall” was a revelation to me. These are crazily nuanced pieces with loads of double-stops, but she played big, warm, and confidently. I’m lucky and blessed to be her father.

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