Concert review: Soloist Katherine Jenkins and choir in beautiful tribute to pioneer 'sustenance' through song

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 23 2012 2:38 p.m. MDT

Singer Katherine Jenkins

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Katherine Jenkins is a true beauty. Gifted with a lovely songbird voice, she also radiates beauty in her joyful, charming demeanor.

It was an inspired choice to invite the British soloist, well on her way to becoming this country’s favorite Welsh import, to establish the concert “The Joy of Song” theme of the sheer beauty and unique power of vocal music.

To open, the selections were “They, the Builders of the Nation” — with its praising “To the founders we revere! / List our song of adoration / Blessed, honored pioneer!” lyric — and “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” These two hymns honor the intense struggles and sacrifice the state’s early settlers endured to create a religious sanctuary and settle the rugged Utah territory.

As narrator Lloyd D. Newell acknowledged, in their travels, pioneers received “sustenance through song.”

“Many sang their way through the long miles of the day and at night, family and friends gathered to join their voices in song around campfires,” he said.

“A Grand Night for Singing” was the choir’s first song to embody "The Joy of Song” theme. Written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers for the “State Fair” movie, the little-heralded gem of a song was the first of seven compositions written for the screen or stage of the 16 songs that followed.

“A Grand Night for Singing” includes the line “On a night too lovely for words."

Jenkins’ first solo, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” Alan Jay Lerner and Fredrick Lowe’s composition for “My Fair Lady,” was a nod to her initial introduction to U.S. audiences when she performed on the “Dancing with the Stars” TV competition.

Resplendent in her floor-length, fishtail gowns, Jenkins beautifully displayed the full range of her sterling mezzo-soprano voice, a free-flowing marvel, in “I Could Have Danced All Night” and the six performances that followed. She is not content with just singing the notes with near-perfect diction, but Jenkins also understands the lyrics and stages the songwriters’ intentions with glee.

Later in the program, Jenkins sang the sassy “Habanera” aria from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” then invited onstage the evening’s surprise guest, her dancing partner Mark Ballas, who had flown in to join her for this concert. Jenkins and Ballas, in full toreador regalia, then danced a ballroom paso doble, modeled after a Spanish bullfight, to the music of "Espana Cani" ("Spanish Gypsy Dance").

The evening’s second surprise was the video introduction to “The Prayer,” which has become an international sensation with performances by many soloists. Composer David Foster, who wrote the song to Carole Bayer Sager’s words, said “The Prayer,” like the best songs written, “flowed right through me” and required little effort because of the influence he received. With her hand to her heart, Jenkins sang a heartfelt and emotionally rewarding “The Prayer.”

Inviting Jenkins to perform helped the choir return to its own pioneer roots. Following the well-established tradition of Welsh choral singing, Welshman John Parry assembled early emigrants from Wales to perform a choral piece at an early church gathering, which inspired Brigham Young to encourage these Saints to formally launch a church choir. Parry's successor, another Welshman named Evan Stephens, formed the great Mormon Tabernacle Choir, using the voices of Parry's Bowery Choir as the core.

Jenkins turned to the choir behind her and asked members to raise their hand if they had Welsh ancestry and was surprised at the vast majority of “her cousins” in the choir. According to one estimate, 75 percent of the choir’s singers can trace their lineage to Wales. Jenkins’ powerful rendition of the Welsh patriotic hymn “Cymru Fach” (“Dearest Wales”) was a tribute to her homeland: “There's a place for the whole of her in my heart, dearest Wales. ... My way back from afar to that sanctuary of my childhood, dearest Wales.”

The evening’s final performance, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” was a final honor to the Utah pioneers who the faithful believe never walked alone in their journeys across the plains. “Walk on through the wind / Walk on through the rain / Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown / Walk on, walk on / With hope in your heart / And you'll never walk alone.”

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