By Audrey Anderson
Hometown Weekly Reporter
In the last concert of the 2023 Needham Concert Series, mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum dazzled the audience with her commanding stage presence, rich tone, and nuanced performance of a group of well-chosen songs by Johannes Brahms, Samuel Barber, Florence Price, and Phillip Lasser. Eileen Downey accompanied Ms. Tatum on piano, and cellist Ronald Lowry also played on the Brahms piece.
Renée Tatum has sung with the MET for 12 years and nearly 100 performances. She has also performed with the Palm Beach Opera, the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, the Pensacola Opera, the National Taichung Theatre in Taiwan, and the Seattle Opera.
The first group of two songs on the program were written by the romantic composer Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and were sung in German. Ms. Tatum’s powerful voice imbued each word with emotion and controlled power.
The next group of four songs was composed by Samuel Barber (1910-1981). As a 20th century American lyric and romantic composer, Samuel Barber’s stark and emotional songs included modern intervals and dynamic changes, navigated by Ms. Tatum with maximum power and tenderness.
The third group of three songs by groundbreaking classical African-American composer Florence Price (1857-1953) illustrated intimate aspects of loving relationships and the power of song to even out life’s ups and downs. Ms. Tatum’s intimate interpretation of this song cycle was heartfelt.
The fourth group, a song cycle titled “License of Love” was written by modern Franco-American composer Phillip Lasser (born 1963). The conversational and challenging songs in this cycle dealt with the course of a romance, from beginning to end.
At the end of her performance, the audience enthusiastically awarded Ms. Tatum with rounds of applause and shouts of “Brava!” As she was resting after her performance, Ms. Tatum was greeted by a colleague from the Seattle Opera, who she hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic. Soprano Lori Phillips of New York and Rhode Island embraced Renée Tatum, and they reminisced about their earlier collaborations and updated each other about their current activities.