Steven Stolen's forte is in putting together a program to get us thinking about the essentials of being human. Reflecting on the broad scope of Benjamin Britten's compositions on his centennial, Stolen performed two programs, Britten: Silly and Sacred and Britten: From Ireland, before segueing to 20th century American folk and pop music.
Opening with Britten's bluesy, cabaret interpretation of W.H. Auden's cryptic poem "Tell Me The Truth About Love," Stolen showed how what Britten heard translated into his compositions - in this case, connecting the Auden piece to Henry Purcell's reflective "Evening Song."
Stolen was at his best with a medley of American Folk Songs... on the Sad Side, in arrangements by Rick Walters and Brian Stanley. The stories aren't pretty: "On the Banks of the Ohio" details the 19th century murder of a young woman who scorns her lover's proposal; in "Bury Me Beneath the Willow," a jilted groom laments his lost love; and with "The Streets of Laredo" [also known as "The Cowboy's Lament"], we hear of the need to tell and re-tell a dying person's story so his life was not in vain. On a more hopeful note, Stolen's show-stopper was a lush setting of "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder."