Soprano Anna Feucht, Baritone Marshall Severin & Pianist Ruth Winters in Recital:
Music reflects the era in which it was written. Robert Schumann (1810-1856) Freuen liebe und leben (A Woman's Love and Life) from 1840 is a set of eight songs that tells of a young woman's experiences. She has outgrown her childhood interests. She now sees a male as desirable and he notices her and her self-doubt sets in as she dreams of life with him as her lover. No mortal man can live up to her expectations as she admires the ring on her finger. Other young women are all a-twitter as they dress her for the wedding. She cries with rapturous joy at being recently married. By the 6th song she is expecting a baby. In the next song she experiences the love a mother has for her child. In the last song she sings of her grief at the death of her husband. The woman in the Schumann song cycle is lucky to have only one child. Robert's wife Clara had given birth to eight children by the time Robert died in an asylum at age 46.
Marshall Severin, who had been recruited to fill in for the scheduled baritone six days before the recital, gave us seven masterfully performed songs by Schumann from his Dichterliebe (Poet's Love). The cycle, also from 1840, has 16 songs set to poems by Heinrich Heine. Beginning with a song on the joys of the month of May, he is soon overcome by tears because he has fallen in love. For him, she has become the rose, the lily, the dove, the sun. Overwrought by his total infatuation, he cries bitterly. He continues in this fashion for the next two songs. Only the last selection sets us straight—his girl marries a man who is financially well off and he suffers true heartbreak.
After intermission we heard music by contemporary composer Jake Heggie (b. 1961). As we heard in Animal Passion from Mr. Heggie's cycle Natural Selection, life choices for women have changed. Here Ms. Feucht sang a young woman's assertion of her right to sexual adventures in hotel rooms and afternoon apartments. She roars, exclaiming her right to be the opposite of a Schumann era domestic cat. The text of the poem by Gini Savage can be found online at: http://www.naomioconnell.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Animal-Passion-TT-Website.pdf (The texts and translations for the Schumann songs were provided.)
Though listed on the program as the final selection, Jake Heggie's duet, Robert Schumann (2008) (text Mary Oliver, 2003), followed. Clara, as an old woman, looks back and remembers the day she met Robert and recalls “his long road down through madness toward death.” This 21st century duet is in stark contrast to the Romantic era. Baritone Marshall Severin hums to open the song just as Robert does in the poem. Soprano Anna Feucht offers the text of the poem with their voices weaving together, ending in a humming duet.
This song Robert Schumann is the key to understanding the theme of the concert and would have made the natural pivot point. Unfortunately the song was neither introduced or explained before it was sung. And though it was sung in English, the words were largely indecipherable. The text was not included in the program, so the meaning only became clear to us after we found the poem online.
Mr. Severin then sang Heggie's Thoughts Unspoken (text John Hall) which has the realism of daily life. It opens with A Learning Experience Over Coffee. The struggle of practicality versus being in love in You Enter My Thoughts focused on the world as it is now. He sings of being taught how to argue and stand-up in a fight. What he wasn't taught was how to speak of love. The third song, To Speak of Love brought tears when it concluded with: I love you, need you . . . you are the song I sing.” Owing much to a Sondheim patter song but with no repetitions, the cycle closes with Unspoken Thoughts at Bedtime. She sleeps. Seeing her relaxed vulnerability in sleep, he can make a promise to her of his true feelings.
Both Ms. Feucht and Mr. Severin are talented young singers who gave insightful performances and pianist Ruth Winters showed us once again what a excellent accompanist she is. The program will repeat in February, 2018. Details can be found on the AU Calendar in the new year.
Easing gently into a program titled Wild Sounds, Polly Butler Cornelius sang four songs by John Duke (poetry Mark Van Doren) with Oksana Lutsyshyn at the piano. An exuberant Good Morning greets the natural world. Meandering through the woods alone and free in Walking in the Rain, the singer is escorted by gentle piano triplets. The sounds of a waterfall in Water that Falls and Runs Away is created by high, five-note arpeggios, both comforting and mysterious. Fast moving and very high 16th notes in the piano in Listen to Us, the Leaves Say, continue throughout the song.
Jocelyn Hagen composed the cycle Songs of the Fields and Prairies. The first song, Call of the Open, offers the contrast of the grime, hurry and dust of the city in aggressively discordant chords against gentle harmonies depicting open fields where you can find “Nature and peace and God.” Accompanied by Oksana Lutsyshyn, the song was dramatically delivered by soprano Cailin Crane, a senior at ODU studying vocal performance and dance. With power and precise diction she sang, a cappella The Endless Root, that can be heard as a protest against the folly of war. The Flower of the Field, with text from the Holy Bible (Isaiah) says mankind, like a flower, fades with time. For the composer it seemed to be a statement of faith that offers no comfort.
Ms. Cornelius returned after percussion instruments were put in place for Wild Songs composed by Steve Heitzeg. Commissioned for the Schubert Club's 125th anniversary, the percussion instruments included two organic vegetable seed packets as rattles, whale jawbones (for this performance only caribou antlers were available), Korean gongs, marimba, pieces of junk, pine cones, temple blocks, a Yupik frame drum (high humidity necessitated using a concert tom-tom) and whirlies (flexible, plastic tubes producing a drone sound reminiscent of a didgeridoo) and recorded bonobo vocalizations. The Last Roundup (text, Rachel Carson) says that we are responsible for protecting the wonders that nature offers. The soprano's dance-like melody is woven into the mix as the percussionists shout “No GMOS” several times. At the end Ms. Cornelius sings a robin's song in cannon with a singing plush toy robin.
In Rattle the Cage/Bend the Bars we heard Dr. Jane Goodall's message that only if mankind cares can the great apes be saved. Woven in with the percussion, the soprano sometimes sings the Goodall quote and at others vocalizes hooting and ooking in lament with the recorded bonobo voices. In Wild Mercy, poet Terry Tempest Williams says that the eyes of the future are looking to us, praying that we will see beyond our own time and act with restraint. The rhythm increases, putting the human voice in a natural environment that felt a lot like flying. Intermission followed and gave us time to absorb this stunning experience. The terrific percussion was by Professor David Walker, grad student Jonathan Wudijono and junior Daniel Stazer.
Literally a new voice in Hampton Roads, tenor Randall Criswell Ball sang Songs of the High Sierra. The text makes clear that famous naturalist and conservationist John Muir (1838-1914), who helped found the Natural Park System and helped establish the idea of wildlife conservation in America, was a transcendental mystic. His prose from letters to a Mrs. Carr is warm, sometimes humorous and filled with passion for Yosemite, waterfalls, glaciers and giant redwood trees. The declamatory style of setting texts by composer Gwyneth Walker (b. 1947) gave full range to Dr. Ball's powerful but nuanced delivery. This attempt to express the grandeur of nature and celebrate it was wonderfully successful. Muir writes “I wish you could see the edge of the snow-cloud which hovered so soothingly, discharging its heaven-begotten snows with such unmistakable gentleness and love . . . “ while the piano in undulating waves accompanied the singer's words. God is found in nature and the path to heaven is indicated by the upward thrust of the giant redwoods.
Anna Feucht sang five songs by Juliana Hall, settings of less well-known poems by Emily Dickenson. Clustered around the idea of the complexity of a single flower in nature, accompanied by spare, mysterious piano music, the five poems personify this apparently simple bloom that encompasses the whole of nature. To be a flower is a profound responsibility calmly delivered by Ms. Feucht while the piano played on. But there was often drama in the piano as in the voice. A frosted rose required dramatic expression because it meant that roses and violets and bumblebees are done for now.
From The Space Between, a cycle of seven songs by Scott Gendel, we heard two. Poet Wendell Berry addressed the angst of this present moment in the song The Peace of Wild Things: “. . . when depair for the world grows in me . . . fear of what my life and my children's lives may be . . . “ sang baritone Marshall Severin. His answer was as sweet as his voice, expanding to tell us of the light of the stars found in the grace of the natural world. In Whatever Happens the answer is that those who have learned to love one another will make their way to the lasting world, whatever happens. This was comforting to his listeners as was a song Louis Armstrong made famous, What a Wonderful World (Thiele/Weiss). Mr. Severin also sang Lost in the Stars by Kurt Weill from his musical of the same name. The goal was to send us all home happy. In addition to an attractive program booklet we were given texts of all the songs and bios of all the composers and performers. A representative from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation spoke briefly about our responsibility for nature here and now. Hopefully that part of the evening motivates us to action.
On the CD Wild Songs (innova 825, released 2012), Polly Butler Cornelius sings the three Steve Heitzeg songs we heard in the Cantabile program. She also sings additional songs by Heitzeg: his cycle Three Graces for Hildur and Loveblessing and Is Everybody Else Alright?. The CD also includes settings by Lori Laitman of Four Emily Dickinson Songs: Will There Really be a Morning?, I'm Nobody, She Died and If I.... The pianist is Victoria Fischer Faw and percussion on the title set is by Heather Barringer and Patti Cudd. The program booklet is a good read, the songs are interesting and well done and recommended for any art song aficionado and especially for ecologically concerned listeners. A full review by Lawrence Vittes can be found on Gramophone's website here: https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/33707/page/17. The CD can be purchased from innova: https://www.innova.mu/albums/polly-butler-cornelius/wild-songs and as an MP3 download on Amazon.