Candlelight offers diverse classical voice recital

Preview

November 17, 2006|By Judah Adashi | Judah Adashi,special to the sun

Classical voice recitals have a reputation for being rather staid affairs. While they rarely lack for beautiful music, diverse and entertaining programs can be hard to come by.

How, then, to account for a vocal concert that includes a Cole Porter-Franz Schubert hybrid arranged by John Greer, titled "I've Got Faust under My Skin"? Or Tom Lehrer's gleeful paean to promiscuity, "I Got It from Agnes" ("She got it from Harry/Who got it from Marie/And everyone knows that Marie/Got it from me")?

Enter Sari Gruber, winner of the prestigious Naumburg International Vocal Competition last year, deemed "nothing short of sensational" by Opera Magazine, and praised by The Boston Globe for her "warm and playful stage presence."

At 8 p.m. tomorrow, the Yale- and Juilliard-trained soprano brings her considerable talents and a refreshingly wide-ranging program to the Candlelight Concert Series at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. She will be joined by pianist Cameron Stowe, an esteemed collaborative artist who holds degrees from Oberlin, Peabody and Juilliard, and teaches at the University of Toronto.

Gruber's program opens with two elegant songs by French composer Reynaldo Hahn. These are followed by six impassioned settings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poetry by Austrian composer Hugo Wolf. Wolf's songs emerged from the tradition of German lieder associated with Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann but took the genre to new heights of psychological and dramatic intensity.

The first half of the concert concludes with the Argentine composer Carlos Guastavino's Cuatro canciones argentinas, which alternate lively, folk-inflected rhythms with slow, eloquent music of profound longing.

The second half of the recital is devoted to music by American composers. Gruber begins with three songs by Samuel Barber, including the composer's well-known "Sure on this Shining Night," a quietly radiant setting of a text by James Agee.

Two songs by Charles Ives showcase the composer's versatility, from the hazy impressionism of "Serenity," to the starkly contrasting vignettes that comprise "Memories: a. Very Pleasant; b. Rather Sad." "Very Pleasant" conjures the anticipatory excitement of an opera audience before the curtain rises ("a feeling of expectancy/a certain kind of ecstasy"), while "Rather Sad" shifts abruptly into a bittersweet mode, reflecting on an overheard melody ("the tune my uncle hummed from early morn").

Gruber rounds out the evening with the Greer and Lehrer numbers, along with two bluesy, wistful selections from Pulitzer Prize-winner William Bolcom's Cabaret Songs and Sheldon Harnick's clever "The Ballad of the Shape of Things."

In 2002, I had the good fortune to hear Gruber sing Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins at the Aspen Music Festival. The performance captured many of the soprano's rare gifts: her facility with stylistically varied music, her theatrical flair and her nuanced sense of humor. Gruber is a rising star as a recitalist and opera singer. Her appearance in Columbia, part of a busy season that includes a solo recital at Lincoln Center in New York, is not to be missed.

Tickets are $29 for adults, $26 for those ages 60 and older and $12 for full-time students younger than 24. As a special offer at the door, students ages 17 and younger will be admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult, subject to ticket availability. At 6:45 p.m., tenor John Weber of the Baltimore and Washington Opera Companies will present a preconcert lecture, free and open to the public. Information: 410- 480-9950, or www.candlelightconcerts.org, or e-mail candlelight.concerts @ verizon.net.

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