Frigid temperatures made for a small audience on Thursday evening at the Schubert Club's "Songs for the Season" concert. And that was a pity, because the evening was something of an experiment — an experiment that proved largely successful.
The first innovation was hooking up, for the first time, with Twin Cities PBS and staging the recital at the TV station's studios in downtown St. Paul.
The choice of music, curated by Schubert Club composer-in-residence Abbie Betinis, totally avoided the usual Christmas staples. Betinis herself contributed "Behind the Clouds," an Advent carol setting of her own evocative verses. Soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw brought crystalline tone to the soaring solo part, strikingly counterpointed by a drone effect in the three accompanying voices and Audrey Slote's mournful cello ruminations.
Bradley Ellingboe's "Our Wistful Song" also involved all four singers and Slote's pensive cello. It was a time capsule of a performance, distilling the atmosphere of parlor music-making from a bygone era.
Minnesota composers dominated the recital. It opened with "We Toast the Days," Minnesota-based Linda Kachelmeier's New Year's meditation, cleverly incorporating strands of renaissance polyphony into what is essentially a simple love song.
Excellent writing for the different voice parts also marked Timothy C. Takach's attractive new setting of the classic "O Holy Child of Bethlehem." The Minneapolis composer himself sang bass in the recital and took a heartfelt solo in "My Soul" by local singer-songwriter Peter Mayer.
Carleton grad Daniel Messe's "Identical Snowflakes" showcased the sweet, high-flying tenor notes of Nicholas Chalmers and the zesty mezzo-soprano of Laura Betinis Healy.
In a program which cheerfully ignored the usual borderlines between classical and popular music, there was room for Prince's "The Same December" — the late star's Schubert Club debut — and Bob Dylan's "Ring Them Bells." Both resonated powerfully in the unfamiliar context of a concert recital.
"Songs for the Season" was live-streamed on the internet, using TPT's facilities. It was another Schubert Club first, one with great potential for the organization's future. The club returns to TPT on Jan. 19 to host Tim Fain's "Portals."
Terry Blain writes about classical music and theater.