Con amore. With love, the Italians say. Performances that are delivered truly con amore are incredibly uplifting and, alas, all too rare.
The concert at Maryland Hall last Saturday featuring the extraordinary Ethel Ennis, Maryland's first lady of song, J. Ernest Green's Annapolis Chorale and pianist Stef Scaggiari was one of those uplifting occasions.
Everything about the concert -- the singing, the playing, the musical arrangements, the audience response -- was full of love.
Each note that comes out of Ethel Ennis is sensitive and joyous, its tonal luster intact. In fact, she sings jazz the way a great lieder recitalist sings Schubert.
There is tone painting everywhere as a wealth of subtle vocal inflections marry themselves inextricably to the emotional content of both melody and lyric.
With one opening burst of melody -- "Sometimes the snow comes in June" -- she invited a brand new harmony, created a wholly different emotional space for herself and rerouted the energy flow of 700 people in the bargain. Not bad for six words. That's amore.
In Duke Ellington's "I Love You Madly," every phrase was coaxed and cajoled across the bar lines with exactly the right emphasis and finesse.
"Love Walked In" was stylish and regal on the one hand, yet irresistibly zippy on the other.
Love begat love. Stef Scaggiari's string arrangements for Ms. Ennis' ballads didn't so much accompany the songs as caress them. Maestro Green's singers obviously adored their guest and relished each and every opportunity to scat along with her.
The audience sang, clapped and roared its appreciation with tremendous enthusiasm. Bassist Keter Betts was applauded with similar enthusiasm for his remarkable solos.
The chorale opened with a delightful tribute to Cole Porter, whose songs never fail to amaze with their inexhaustible wit and melodic verve.
The solo singing might have been a tad variable, but there was much to enjoy, especially a breezy "Easy To Love" from Jill and Roger Compton, a sultry "So In Love" from Dierdre Elmore, and a sexy sextet whose hearts all belonged to Daddy.
Maestro Green kept the 24-song medley running smoothly, aided and abetted by Mr. Scaggiari, whose customary pianistic elegance was delivered con amore.