Recitals to put classical singers in the spotlight

Critic's Corner//Music

Music Column

November 28, 2006|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,Sun music critic

Time was when classical singers weren't accepted as serious artists until they had demonstrated their vocal wares and interpretive insights in recital programs filled with songs from different eras and in different languages. Today, recitals are few and far between, which makes each one all the more notable.

And notable is the word for three recitals on the local schedule, starting tonight with Christine Brewer, a soprano increasingly celebrated for performances in Wagner and Strauss operas.

She's also a fine recitalist, as her wide-ranging choices for her Vocal Arts Society-sponsored program in Washington makes plain. Accompanied by pianist Craig Rutenberg, Brewer will balance Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder and songs by Strauss with a cantata of American spirituals created by John Carter and songs from the British Isles.

The recital is at 7:30 tonight in the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center, Virginia and New Hampshire avenues Northwest. For tickets, call 202-467-4600.

The Shriver Hall Concert Series continues its laudable practice of including a vocal recital each season. Stephanie Blythe, a mezzo-soprano in demand at leading opera houses, will be presented in a program rich in Brahms, including his Four Serious Songs. Accompanist Warren Jones will play a couple of the composer's solo keyboard works, too, a welcome variation on the usual voice recital format. The mezzo will also sing some of the exquisite vocal works of Henri Duparc and the Seven Popular Spanish Songs by Manuel de Falla.

The recital is at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Shriver Hall, the Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St. For tickets, call 410-516-7164 or go to

At the exact same time, soprano Hyunah Yu, enjoying a career fast-track since finishing studies at Peabody a few years ago, will participate in a variation on the traditional recital, collaborating with the Poulenc Trio at the Walters Art Museum. She'll sing music by Bach and others, with an emphasis on wintry themes, backed by oboist Vladimir Lande, bassoonist Bryan Young and pianist Irina Lande.

The concert is at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. For tickets, call 410-547-9000 or go to

Recent vocal treats

Two vocal recitals this month perked up my concert-going considerably.

At the Smith Theatre in Columbia, Candlelight Concerts presented soprano Sari Gruber, winner of the 2005 Naumberg Competition, in one of the most imaginative programs I've come across in ages. To find works by Hugo Wolf, Renaldo Hahn, Carlos Guastavino, Charles Ives and Samuel Barber in one night was fulfilling enough; to get a dollop of witty songs by William Bolcom, Sheldon Harnick and Tom Lehrer was irresistible icing on a tasty cake.

Despite constriction in the upper register, Gruber proved to be a natural communicator and an incisive stylist, from a hauntingly phrased account of Hahn's "To Chloris" to John Greer's very witty fusion of Schubert's "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel" and Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin." Accompanist Cameron Stowe practically made the piano sing, too, with his exceedingly elegant playing.

Speaking of imaginative vocal programs, Towson University offered an exploration of early German song that included fascinating works by C.P.E. Bach and Beethoven, and such rarities as Bernhard Klein's "Erl-King.".

The intimate new recital hall at the university's Center for the Arts proved an ideal venue for the thoughtfully chosen material, as well as for baritone Phillip Collister's gentle vocalism and the subtleties of a fortepiano sensitively played by Eva Mengelkoch.

Hot night at the BSO

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's day-after-Thanksgiving performance was quite a bargain. In addition to a pair of Russian warhorses, there was room for a recent work by American composer Kevin Puts. And guest pianist Simon Trpceski threw in an encore by a fellow Macedonian.

Friday's performance at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall found Miguel Harth-Bedoya, music director of the Fort Worth Symphony, a dynamic presence on the podium. The BSO didn't always respond cleanly (some woodwind players had particular trouble) but generated a good deal of expressive sweep.

With hints of the Rhine in Wagner's Ring and flashes of John Adams or Michael Torke, River's Rush finds Puts in prismatic, bracing form. The 2004 piece was boldly delivered.

Trpceski's account of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini had a wonderful spontaneity and much more dynamic nuance than usually encountered. The pianist, smoothly partnered by Harth-Bedoya, seemed intent on tapping into the music, not just going for a pyrotechnic ride. A stellar performance. Trpceski's encore: a folk dance-inspired piece of Prokofiev-like percussiveness by Zivoyin Glisic.

Harth-Bedoya held a firm grip on Tchaikovsky's Pathetique, emphasizing momentum. Too bad eager applause destroyed the finale's poignant fade-out.

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