The crowd at Boston Secession's "(Un)Lucky in Love" concert last Friday was a testament to this sparkling ensemble's growing cult - a cult you should join, too, if you hanker for lushly transparent singing conducted with intelligence and wit (by the accomplished Jane Ring Frank, at left). The shaggy setting of "(Un)Lucky in Love," however - a church hall in Cambridge - had the kind of acoustics that undermine vocal precision, and for once Frank's idiosyncratic programming was occasionally beyond the Secession's grasp.
Frank is truly an expert at at both high and low pastiche, and she knows just how to leaven solemnity with whimsy (useful skills when simultaneously celebrating and skewering St. Valentine's Day). But this time her musical eye roved particularly wide; at one point, the concert careened from Britten's Phaedra to "Baby Bear's Lament" (surely a segue for the history books). Actually, the "Lament" was quite winsome, but Phaedra, alas, proved beyond the persona (if not the pipes) of its soloist, Thea Lobo; Ms. Lobo got her chance to shine in a charming version of "A Case of You" (it's nice to see Joni Mitchell treated as art song), and particularly in an exquisite rendering of the Flower Duet from Lakmé, where her limpid soprano was paired with the achingly pure tones of Kristi Vrooman. In general the Secession did best by its chestnuts: "Soave sia il vento" from Cosi had a yearning glow, and the famous sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor sounded as if it would have sounded fabulous in a better hall. Elsewhere, Adriana Repetto brought a melting kind of bloom to "Elegia Eterna", while Marc J. DeMille and Bradford Gleim duked it out for top honors in two Schumann lieder.
Alas, the opening contemporary songs, from the likes of Elliott Carter and Paul Bowles, didn't make much of an impression, but guest artist Brittany Bara did nail her version of Carol Burnett's big number from Once Upon a Mattress (remember what I told you about that widely roving eye?), and Mary Sullivan had a triumph with "Pro Musica Antiqua," a hiliarious warning from a shy young thing about the machinations of "the musical male." Something in its witty sweetness seemed to encapsulate what's best about Boston Secession - a sense that true musical seriousness is never less than fun.