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Sad songs, gushy songs, songs of the good ol' days.

Byline: Paul Denison The Register-Guard

There was a time when "the piano-mad American bourgeoisie" entertained themselves at home with nothing more than a parlor instrument and some sheet music, and "a lot of an audience's payoff at a concert was having a good cry at a well delivered tragic ballad."

In two recitals here this week, soprano Maria Jette and a few friends will revisit the days when visiting British singer and composer Henry Russell would bring every audience to tears by singing "Woodman, Spare That Tree."

"This idea of a song being such a reliable tear-jerker - and it's a song about saving a TREE - just grabs me!" says Jette, who will be featured in two programs focusing on songs, piano tunes and small ensemble works that were popular in American and British homes from the mid-19th century until World War I.

Although Wednesday's program takes a look at the United States and Thursday's at Victorian and Edwardian Britain, the selections also will reflect "cross-pollination" between American and British music.

Back in the 1850s, Jette says, some of the biggest performers and most popular hits in the United States came from the British Isles.

For example, Irish singer and opera composer Michael Balfe had a "giant hit" with "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls," which has withstood the test of time well enough for Enya to record her own version.

"I think it's one of the loveliest melodies ever - very folk-like" Jette says.

Another early American hit was Henry Work's "Grandfather's Clock," a song that Johnny Cash later recorded. Jette's first program will include not only the original but also Ned Hasting's concert fantasy version and Work's sequel to his own song.

Wednesday's program also will include three Stephen Foster songs, other pieces associated with "crossover artists" Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Jenny Lind, two Irish emigre songs and three perceptions about "ladies," moving from "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" to "She Is More to Be Pitied Than Censured" and "I Don't Care."

And that's just the first half. After intermission Wednesday, Jette and piano accompanist Sonja Thompson will delve into the era of sheet music million-sellers such as "After the Ball," followed by two ragtime numbers, some "transportation and technology" songs about merry Oldsmobiles and the not-so-merry Titanic, and three outright tear-jerkers.

Jette acknowledges that pieces such as "In the Baggage Coach Ahead" may make modern audiences squirm.

``When people talk about this period being all sentimental gush, I guess they're right,'' she says. "But what's wrong with it? I've always loved these songs, and the idea that people were caught up in these tragic tales, and weeping at them, seems beautiful to me. And they are really sad!"

Jette will close Wednesday's program with three of her personal favorites including "Shine On, Harvest Moon."

Thursday's late Victorian/early Edwardian program, Jette says, "is less about popular music per se, and more classical; but much of this is classical music which was also heard in people's homes. In England and the U.S.A., competency on the piano was expected of well educated persons of both genders, but especially of young ladies. Singing was big, too."

On Thursday, Jette and pianist Thompson will be joined by tenor David Gustafson, alto Emily Lodine and bass Sandy Naishtat for partsongs and duets.

You'll know you're not in Kansas anymore when you hear Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's settings of William Blake's "Jerusalem" and Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Music, when soft voices die," or Charles Stanford's treatment of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar," or Edward Elgar's "God Save the King/Queen."

And the program also includes excursions to Ireland (``The Fairy Lough" and "Danny Boy," as a duet).

The second half of Thursday's recital will be devoted solely to Liza Lehmann's quartet "In a Persian Garden," based on "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam."

How very British, you say! But not just British.

"Liza Lehmann was very popular" in the United States, Jette says, "and she toured as accompanist for her own songs. `In a Persian Garden' was as popular here as it was in England."

Aside from the common time frame and focus on domestic diversions, the two programs of this mini-festival are linked by the prevalent mood of the decades leading up to the war that was supposed to end all wars but did not. Jette, for one, looks back wistfully at this "The Age of Innocence."

Referring to the sentimental songs that once moved people to tears, she says, "I like thinking about a culture where that could still happen ... there's something so tender about an age with no Paris Hilton or Donald Trump or Enron."


OFAM's American Symphonia series: The Age of Innocence

What: Two recitals featuring soprano Maria Jette, presented by the Oregon Festival of American Music

When: ``What Was `Gentle Annie' Singing in Her `Home, Sweet Home'? - American Popular Music Before World War I'' at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; and ``Grand Passions in Genteel Packages - The Elegant Poetry and Glorious Harmonies of Britain's Victorians and Edwardians'' at 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Shedd Concert Hall, 285 E. Broadway

How much: $34, $24 and $20 (687-6526 or 800-248-1615)

Preconcert dinner: A set-menu, family-style meal, 6 p.m., Shedd Gym; reservations required: 687-6526


Soprano Maria Jette will be featured in a pair of OFAM concerts this week.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 13, 2005
Previous Article:Some German music (in the original Chinese).

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