Karen Lykes and Kenneth Griffiths Terrific Recital
A unique selection of art songs was presented
at Virginia Wesleyan College's Hofheimer Theater on Sunday, February 1,
2004. The unifying theme was Orientalism. The texts of the songs were
written by poets of the middle and far east, or on themes associated with
the East by western poets. In conversation Ms. Lykes explained that she
had noticed that two or three of her chosen songs had oriental themes
and built the rest of the program accordingly.
From the opening song Les roses d'Ispahan by Gabriel Fauré
(1875-1937), it was clear that Ms. Lykes is a genuine and expressive art song interpreter with a very
pretty voice. In Georges Bizet's (1838-1875) Adieux de l'hôtesse arabe (The Arab Hostess's Farwell),
the vocal part, with a vocalese on the word "Remember," is wildly colorful, lovely and also
one of loss. The pianist, Mr. Griffiths, can be dramatic and passionate as needed but also is supportive
of the singer - an ideal partner for art song. Medjé (Arab Song) by Charles Gounod
(1818-1893) closes this mid-eastern set by French composers.
The second set was made up of songs on poems by Marianne von
Willemer (1784-1860). Von Willemer was a friend to Goethe and these poems were sent to
him. He published them as his own in West-östlicker Divan (Poetry Book of East and West) in 1819.
It was not until 1850 that she "confessed" that she was the author. Robert Schumann's (1810-1856)
Lied der Suleika, Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) Suleika I and Suleika II and
Hugo Wolf's (1860-1903) Hochbeglûckt in deiner Liebe were all included. Our
vocalist floated some lovely tones as she sang these deeply romantic songs of anticipated, frustrated and realized love.
The pianist was excellent. From the stirring opening chords of Suleika I to the long intense
opening of the Wolf song to an ending of great intensity, you were aware that a master
accompanist was offering you his gifts.
Songs by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) came after intermission.
Instead of following his heart, Roussel joined the French Navy, spent time in Indo China and became
an officer. Only at age 25 did he resign and return to France to study music with Vincent D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum.
He stayed there to become a professor of counterpoint and later taught Erik Satie and Edgar
Varèse. When he married in 1909 he spent his honeymoon in India and south-east
The Oxford Dictionary of Music explains
that once Roussel was free of D'Indy's influence, he developed a neo-classical
style with Stravinsky-esque rhythms, daring harmonies and rich expressive
melodies that were often exotically oriental.
Our performers gave us À un jeune gentilhomme,
a charming, subtle song that becomes more impassioned with each verse based on a Chinese ode and
Amoureux séparés (Fu-Mi, poet), a song of beauty but with an ending
of frustrated love. The last Rousel song, Response d'une épouse sage (Chang Chi, poet),
is the tragic tale of love that blossoms too late after she is married into a house of "high
Both composers and songs were new to the audience
in the next set. Tre poesie persiane by Francesco Santoliquido
(1875-1937), an Italian who lived in Tunisia. The picturesque songs
we heard are imbued with local coloring with text by Islamic poets.
The Grove Dictionary of Music describes his musical language as modified
from Debussy by "wayward progressions of mild dissonances recalling
Satie" but with real dramatic force. The weighty text of Quando
le domandai (Negi de Kamare, poet) explores the question of distance
between two lovers and she explains to her questioner that she is
his soul, "Who is able to see the soul." The song Io mi levai
dal centro della terra (poet Abu-Said) is the story of young lovers. When asked, the young woman
explains to her questioner that she will tie her destiny to her own
self because she is love, the lover and the loved one, "Because I
am the Mirror, the Beauty and the Vision."
These themes drawn from the Mediterranean coast
of Africa are the best Santoliquido has to offer and they
were lovely. He founded a concert society and a music school
in the local village that later became a conservatory. The Grove Dictionary
describes him as an "original talent influenced by Wagner and Debussy."
Late in his life his claims in the Fascist press that "modern music
was to be shunned as an invention of the Jews" remains a stain on
As a capstone to this Orientalist
program, we were presented Asie by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
from his famous and first significant song cycle Sheherazade.
In 1903, the year it was written, Ravel also made a piano version
which pares away some of the shimmer but leaves intact the elegance,
the tailored lust and the exotic excitement of the orchestral version.
The performance was wonderful throughout this piece and the entire
program. The encore was L'Âne blanche by Georges Adolphe Hüe (1858-1948).
The lover sends his white donkey decked out in silk and jeweled leather
to fetch his beloved if she will come.
Both performers are on the faculty of the College Conservatory of Music of
the University of Cincinnati. Ms. Lykes is an Associate Professor of Voice
and teaches repertory and interpretation to undergraduate students, while Mr. Griffiths
teaches repertory and interpretation for graduate piano students. Both have had international
experience as students and as professional performers.
The recital was presented by Virginia Art Song Society. Dean Doss,
president, introduced the performers and thanked the Norfolk Commission for the Arts for a grant
used for this presentation.
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