Pianist/composer Stephen Coxe, Soprano Brigid Eversole & Tenor Brian Nedvin
It was one of those rare occasions when every element came together to create a perfect evening of art song. This Old Dominion University Music Department faculty recital offered music by Clara Schumann, Benjamin Britten, Stephen Coxe, Maurice Ravel and Robert Schumann, Clara's husband.
The clearly written program booklet, with intelligent notes on each set of songs, gave original texts with English translations. The performance was in an ideal space for art song with Dr. Coxe at a Steinway grand piano and with a receptive, moderate-sized audience.
In very good voice, Brian Nedvin sang the three songs from Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (poems by Paul Morand) set by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) based on Miguel de Cervantes' novel Don Quixote (1605-1615). Composed in 1932-33 for a film on the life of Don Quixote and never used, this was Ravel's last work. Originally written for baritone and orchestra, he later arranged them for baritone and piano. The songs are about three aspects of the Don's life: as lover, holy warrior and drinker. Dr. Nedvin convincingly portrayed each aspect of this sometimes mad, complicated character. Chanson romanesque had a conversational air in telling of his grandiose notion of honoring his lover Dulcinée. In Chason epique (Dramatic song), though confused, the Don is totally empowered as he compares his beloved lady of the night to the Virgin in a blue mantle. Chason à boire (Drinking song), with wild piano and explosive singing of a drunk Don was exciting and very funny.
Soprano Bridgid Eversole sang five songs written by Clara Schumann (1818-1896). When Clara composed these songs she was an ambitious young woman who took her father to court to be able to marry Robert Schumann and won. By marrying Robert and having a family she severely limited her composing. She had great energy: she bore eight children over thirteen years, gave piano concerts for 60 years over much of Europe (including Russia and England - 16 trips), promoting the music of Schumann, Brahms and Chopin—it was new music then—and was greatly praised for the breadth and integrity of her playing. Might she have become the first great woman composer? We will never know.
Her deeply romantic texts are accompanied by a piano that is sometimes gentle and at others robust. With superb diction Dr. Eversole was most convincing in five of Clara's titles. The first, Ich stand in dunklen Traümen (I stood in darkened dreams) (Heinrich Heine) captures the ecstasy of being in love. The other four songs have texts by Friedrick Rücker: Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen (He came in storm and rain) is an enchanted evening story but he leaves at the end anyway. Liebst du um Schönheit (If you love for beauty) and the other two selections cover different aspects of love: beauty fades but love can be forever, look into my eyes to see my heart, and angels carry messages between people who are deeply in love. Dr. Eversole most skillfully told all of these stories.
Titled Winter Words, Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) chose eight poems to set from the great English author Thomas Hardy's old age. Brian Nedvin communicated beautifully these poetic gems—variously touching and tough, passionate and ironic. His singing brought to life Hardy's glances into human experience in these deep-seeing and apparently simple poems. The overall theme is the loss of innocence as a person grows into adult consciousness. Pondering these songs one experiences a remarkable triumph of human consciousness.
Stephen Coxe (b. 1966), in his Three Poems of Paul Verlaine, returned us to the romantic poetry of earlier, more innocent times. Of En sourdine (Calm), Dr. Coxe celebrates two lovers reaching the place where words are no longer needed. As Brian Nedvin's and Bridgid Eversole's smooth, even voices blended, it was experienced as a lyrical unfolding. Clair de lune (Moonlight) and La lune blanche (White moon) continue the lovely quiet with occasional shared drama as they sing together in a minor key of love's conquests and life's opportunities. Coxe at the piano added to the calmness in his settings that enhanced poetry of touching restraint.
The last set, Vier Duette (Four Duets), was by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Tanzlied (Dance song) (Rückert) is a he-sings, she-sings celebration of a couple dancing at a gathering, though he is reluctant to join in the dance. The four songs are so innocent and lighthearted. They know nothing of life to come, only the intoxication of young lovers enthralled with each other, though the last song is a lullaby. The performers shared their sense of fun with the audience. It was infectious!