Mahler Liederabend


Cantabile Project presents an American Song Recital
Pianist Jeremy Reger with Vocalists Fran Coleman,
Brigid Eversole, Arna Majcher, Marshall Severin
Chandler Recital Hall, January 23, 2015
Review by John Campbell

We were delighted to finally see a reprise of Where the Music Comes From: What Motivates Us to Sing designed and directed by Karen Hoy, president and major force for the Cantabile Project. First presented on September 29, 2014, this revision included much of the material from that evening. The September program also included Adam Piper, Kathryn Kelly, Emily Russell, Bradley Fielding and Christopher Michael Rorie along with the singers reviewed here. The four added several additional songs to make a full program.

We do not take lightly missing a song recital—there are so few. We were happy to view a DVD recorded by Alan Fischer furnished by Karen Hoy and the program booklet and written comments by our friend Margaret Gupta who attended. A scheduling conflict—the Norfolk Chamber Consort season opener was the same evening—prevented us from attending.

The music included many songs by living American composers: Ned Rorem (b.1923), Lori Laitman (b.1955), Jake Heggie (b.1961), Libby Larsen (b.1950), Ricky Ian Gordon (b.1956) and on the lighter side, Tom Lehrer (b.1928), Andrew Thomas (b.1939), Charles Strouse (b.1928) and Frank Wildhorn (b.1959). The dynamic pianist Jeremy Reger of Christopher Newport University was superb in capturing the mood of each song in this diverse program.

The evening opened with the happy enthusiastic singing of Arna Majcher of Where the Music Comes From by Lee Hoiby (1926-2011). Hoiby, like Rorem, avoided atonalism to make songs described as “simple, romantic, traditional and cosmopolitan” and I would add very listenable. Majcher’s clear diction and open energy set the tone for the evening. Late in the program she returned with what seemed a standard celebration of spring but became a dramatic tour de force of theater in Lehrer’s Poisoning Pigeons in the Park. She followed this with Little Girls from the musical Annie by Strouse as the mean-spirited, frustrated Ms. Hannigan who never gets to have love in a family of her own. Ms. Majcher’s broad range as a singing actress was most impressive.

Fran Coleman, a professional soprano and voice teacher from Richmond, sang the second set: Ned Rorem’s The Silver Swan, the often set poem by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) in a high, willowy sound, a meditation on death, full of pathos. In a lovely voice with clear diction, she followed with Lori Latiman’s If I can keep one heart from breaking—a manifesto of what poet Emily Dickinson found to be important in life. After intermission she took on the challenge of Andrew Thomas’ novelty number Another New Voice Teacher. The voice is all over the map as the student tries to meet the demands of each of her many voice teachers “with her tone as round as the moon” and the closing line “Jimmy Levine knows someone who knows someone…”

Bridgid Eversole’s gestures seemed to impart a coy secret as she sang Heavenly Banquet from Hermit Songs by Samuel Barber and followed it with Crucifixion from the same cycle. It is the story of how Mary, the mother of Jesus, viewed the event. In her polished performance the singer plumbed the depths of feeling in these songs.

Marshall Severin, a graduate of CNU, sang Tell My Father, from the Frank Wildhorn musical The Civil War. The emotionally empathetic text was totally engaging in this soldier’s last letter home. The last line left a doubt: “Did I die?” He followed with a lovely Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair set by Stephen Foster.

To flesh out the stagecraft, Ms. Eversole, in a later set, presented the Monologue from Master Class, set by Jake Heggie from the play by Terrence McNally. These are the final words of Maria Callas from her Juilliard master class in 1971-1972, a definitive statement on the art and purpose of singing. This demanding role was followed by So little there by Libby Larsen from Margaret Songs.

Created by novelist Willa Cather, Margaret sings, reflecting on the superficiality of her role in upper crust Victorian New York contrasted with her early life on the Great Plains of Nebraska. The performance was very warm, exciting and playful. She capped the set with Leonard Bernstein’s Screwed on Wrong. Jilted in love, sitting on a park bench, the singer looks for her heart and realizes her head is screwed on wrong. The range of expression was phenomenal.

Marshall Severin completed our live, musical journey with two songs. Last One Picked from the musical Whoop-Dee-Doo! about the feeling of the kid who is always the last one picked for sports even though he has a good brain and a tender heart. A Horse with Wings is one of Ricky Ian Gordon’s most affecting songs. The pathos was especially moving in Severin’s rich, masculine sound.

Cantabile Project Recital of Mahler
Vocalists: Kathryn Kelly, Stephanie Marx, Brian Nedvin,
with Stephen Coxe, Piano
Chandler Hall, January 10, 2016
Review by John Campbell

A wonderful Mahler Liederabend offered a full program of songs by the local Norfolk, Virginia, Cantabile Project. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was born in Bohemia (now Czech Republic) and was late Romantic music’s ultimate big thinker who wrote passionate, large symphonies but also art songs of great depth and passion. We heard seventeen of his 44 songs in one bliss-filled recital.

The lovely Kathryn Kelly opened with a self-conscious song about writing songs, Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder (Do not look into my songs). Ms. Kelly captured the coy charm of Friederick Rückert’s poem. Continuing, she sang 3 selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Child’s Magic Horn).

Actually 6 songs that we heard were from the anthology of German folk poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn. These were selected from a total of 24 settings by Mahler. Between 1805 and 1808 Clemens Brentano, half-Italian by birth, and Achim von Armin, a member of the Prussian landed nobility, both young writers, used old manuscripts and people they met—shepherds, peasants, soldiers—to gather hundreds of songs and poems and sayings into their 3 volumes of folk wisdom, some of it centuries old.

Ms. Kelly sang Starke Einbildungskraft (Strong Conceit) where the girl challenges the boy who promised he would take her in summer, to do so. The last two songs are both about cuckoos and nightingales. Ablösung im Sommer (Change in Summer) and Lob des hohen Verstands (In praise of high understanding) is a satire on critics. Because of his big ears, a donkey is made judge of a singing contest between two birds. He chooses the cuckoo! It was presented with finesse and a beautiful vocal sound.

A stem of linden flowers in a vase in a setting of verse by Rückert, Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (I breathed a gentle fragrance!)—a fragrance that embodies love, was sung with beauty by Stephanie Marx. With gesture and an open countenance, Ms. Marx sang of a childrens’ ring dance, Hans und Grethe (Hansel and Gretel). In this and Liebst du um Schönheit (If you love for beauty, [do not love me]) she gave a stunning, powerful expression to “if you love for love, love me forever…” Mahler composed this tender and poetic song for his recent bride Alma Schindler. Ms. Marks closed her set with Urlicht (Primeval Light) from Wunderhorn. It is a song of deep longing for the peace of heaven, sung with spell-binding beauty.

Tenor Brian Nedvin sang Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) with text by Mahler. Usually sung by a baritone, the lighter voice added an intimate, tearful dimension to this story told in 4 songs. Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht (When my darling has her wedding day) is about a young man’s sorrow on the day his beloved marries another man. Ging heut’ Morgen übers Feld (I walked across a field) talks of being completely captured by his sorrow, so much so that he ignores nature on this morning walk. In the fast and wild Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer (I have a red-hot knife), he describes his pain as a “red-hot knife” in his heart and regrets his life without her. In Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz (The two blue eyes of my darling) he muses that the these eyes sent him into the world. He walks away. The singing of love and sorrow is mysterious and pained. A piano interlude has the feeling of sun coming up on a new day. Our wanderer falls asleep under a linden tree and rests deeply while the petals cover him like an enfolding blanket. Over the course of the story Mahler’s melodies are reckless and the voice soars and swoops, shedding dignity for raw pain, loneliness, poverty and death, only to reach this equilibrium with life.

Ms. Marx scaled down her magnificent, large, vocal sound to sing a Wunderhorn text Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald (I walked with joy through a green wood), telling a gentle story of a man in nature and his maiden who comes to him in the night. Rapturous! In Um Mitternacht (At Midnight) from Rückert Lieder the singer wakes to contemplate the psychological questions of life, at first with anxiety—a pulse of agony and suffering to resolve it all in a prayer expressed in overwhelmingly passionate singing.

Ms. Kelly closed the recital with glamorous singing of Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? (Who thought-up this little song?). A girl looks out from a mountainside inn and is seen by a man who yearns for her. But no angst here—after a vocal tour-de-force it becomes a playful, light-hearted love song. A Rückert poem gets the last word, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gehommen (I am lost to the world). With its quietly sung lyrics: “The world has not heard from me for a long while. I am only dead to the everyday world with its tumult. I live alone in my heaven, my love, my song—a quiet realm,” it is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. We noticed as she finished that the new stage lights gave the wall behind the singer an otherworldly pale lavender tint!

Stephen Coxe was an equal partner to the 3 singers, sometimes as a solo companion, at others standing in for the orchestra. Karen Hoy, who has gathered together the art song lovers through the Cantabile Project, brought us the best evening imaginable. Bravo!

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