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Tenor carries Worcester
Schubertiad opener
By Jonathan Blumhofer
Telegram & Gazette
Reviewer Posted Sep. 27, 2015 at 5:53 PM WORCESTER - The Worcester Schubertiad opened its fourth
season on Saturday night at First Unitarian Church with “A
Supreme Quartet,” a substantial helping of music by nine
composers sung by four singers and accompanied by three
instrumentalists. Of the vocalists, the evening’s finest singing belonged to tenor
Stanley Wilson. He hasn’t got the biggest voice or the most
honeyed tone. But he sings with such a lyrical temperament and
straightforward intelligence that the first quality that came over
in his performances was the unalloyed musical aim of each song.
It helped, no doubt, that his selections – a pair of chansons by
Henri Duparc and three songs by Frank Bridge – fit his voice so
well. Indeed, you could hardly have asked for a more consistent
tone or better diction from Wilson in the former, and the high
level of energy and character with which he imbued Bridge’s
settings of Shakespeare, Keats, and Coleridge proved most
compelling. Soprano Jane Shivick packed many of those same qualities into
her readings of songs by Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and Richard
Strauss. She has a huge range, as was demonstrated rather
explosively in Rachmaninoff’s “Zdes Khorosho” and “Ya zhdu
tebya,” and a pleasing variety of dark shades in her tone (nicely
displayed in a pair of Brahms duets with baritone Ron Williams).
To my ears, though, she was at her best in her closing trio of
Strauss lieder, especially “Allerseelen” and “Zueignung,” which
allowed her to fully channel the lyrical and dramatic sides of her
musical personality. Baritone Williams seemed to be having something of an off night:
he started off sounding a bit raw, had to restart his second song
(Schubert’s “Krieger’s Ahnung”), and throughout the evening had
trouble both with German diction and keeping lyrics straight. His
voice easily filled the performance space, though more by way of
sheer volume than by fullness or warmth of tone. This had the
tendency of giving his contributions (four Schubert songs and a
pair of Brahms duets) a rather hard edge, though his pitch was
true and he projected his lowest register robustly. Mezzo-soprano Sondra Kelly brought a dusky tone to Brahms’
lovely “Zwei Gesänge” (and to whose obbligato accompaniment
violist Don Kirshnaswami supplied velvety warmth) as well as to
a set of two-part folksongs by Mendelssohn (sung with tenor
Wilson). Pianists Malcolm Halliday and Olga Rogach acquitted themselves
well as accompanists. They also took the stage, to more mixed
results, as a duo. Their account of Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise (in
Renaud de Vilbac’s arrangement for piano four-hands) was
texturally fuzzy and rhythmically stiff. Taken at a deliberate pace,
Vilbac’s arrangement – which basically doubles the original’s right
hand part up an octave – took on a rather shrill quality, too.
Better was their performance of Hermann Goetz’s Sonata in G
minor, op. 17. It’s a piece that doesn’t really add anything to the
genre – echoes of Mendelssohn and Schumann abound – but it
has moments of real drama, especially in the absorbing slow
movement, which traces an arc from turbulence to peace.
Halliday and Rogach etched the Sonata’s broad outlines clearly
and satisfyingly mined that second movement’s expressive depth.
After announcing the winners of the Schubertiad’s recent art
song and chamber music competition (they will participate in the
Schubertiad’s April’s performance), all four singers assembled for
Schubert’s “An die Musik.” This ode to the “gracious art” of music
proved both a fitting way to tie up the evening’s many musical
strands and a poignant one.