Peabody celebrates Luciano Berio

Local performers add vivid charm to Italian `Folk Songs'

MusicReview

November 01, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The list of the dearly departed so far in 2003 includes several musical luminaries whose creative energies will be greatly missed. Among them is Italian composer Luciano Berio, who wrote some of the most technically and intellectually sophisticated music of the last 50 years. There was a less complex, often playful side to him as well, evidenced by such arrangements as his Lennon/McCartney hits and the remarkable Folks Songs, an imaginative treatment of 11 songs from various countries.

Around here, performances of anything by Berio are about as rare as straight, substantive answers from politicians, so the inclusion of those Folk Songs on Tuesday night's chamber music program at the Peabody Institute exerted a particularly strong draw. While never conflicting with the simplicity and directness of the material - from Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair and I Wonder as I Wander to Sardinian and French ditties - Berio added a wealth of atmosphere and shading. Most of the instrumental effects are remarkably subtle, providing just enough enhancement to the vocal line.

Phyllis Bryn-Julson, the distinguished soprano and Peabody faculty member, got into the spirit of the music right from the start, making much of tender moments and clearly relishing the chance for some old-fashioned hamming-it-up in the concluding Azerbaijan love song. Her voice may have been a little short on freshness and freedom (hardly surprising for a singer whose career began in the 1960s), but Bryn-Julson's communicative phrasing and sheer charm proved irresistible. She enjoyed vivid, cohesive support from the ensemble of faculty and student musicians.

Providing a clever complement to Berio's folk collection was an Irish song, Paddy's Britches, that another eminent Peabody teacher, baritone John Shirley-Quirk, learned as a boy from his aunt. Peabody director Robert Sirota wrote a colorful, witty arrangement for the catchy melody, using the same accompanying forces as in the Berio item.

Shirley-Quirk had a twinkle in his eye and his voice as he sang about the cold winter night Patrick Haggerty served up boiled leather britches to some home-invaders. The instrumentalists likewise brought considerable character to the performance.

The program began with Mozart's Flute Quartet, which inspired silken playing from flutist Marina Piccinini. To close, there was a pleasant, if largely unremarkable, account of Schubert's Trout Quintet by pianist Yong Hi Moon, violinist Mark Steinberg, violist Maria Lambros, cellist Michael Kannen and bassist Paul Johnson.

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