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2.10.07

Young Concert Artists: Sasha Cooke

Anyone at Steven Blier's latest Wolf Trap recital this past August likely wanted to hear more from mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke. Washingtonians had that wish fulfilled by Young Concert Artists, who sponsored her Sunday afternoon recital in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater (again, reviewed exclusively by Ionarts). Cooke and her excellent associate artist, pianist Pei-Yao Wang, presented an attractive program of rarities from the 19th- and 20th-century song repertory to a mostly full house.

The concert opened memorably with a composed, calm rendering of the first song of Samuel Barber's Four Songs, op. 13, a setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins's A Nun Takes the Veil. It is always enlightening to hear a complete set of which one song is particularly well known, in this case, Sure on This Shining Night (poem by James Agee). Cooke's English pronunciation and diction made the texts very clear, a strength that helped make the John Musto song cycle, Shadow of the Blues, the high point of the afternoon. Here, wisely with no introduction to the music or poetry, Cooke gave us three other songs from the cycle to go along with the extraordinary Litany on the Wolf Trap program. Musto has made a successful hybridization of styles in his absorption of jazz, blues, and Broadway sounds. The listener can recognize the references, but Musto has incorporated them into a new and much more interesting sound world.

While Cooke's German and French were less exemplary (but still good), the program concluded with a satisfying set of Rachmaninoff songs, including Zdes' khorosho (op. 21, no. 7), which recently featured on Anna Netrebko's Russian Album. Cooke seems to have good Russian, too: it probably helps that both of her parents teach Russian at Texas A&M. Cooke's voice is a gem, at times needing a little polishing in its top, and her stage presence and poise are impressive. During the postlude of Barber's Sure on This Shining Night, she remained completely engaged, a play of emotions flickering across her face as the music changed behind her. Cooke certainly had a capable partner in Pei-Yao Wang, who painted with a range of color from symbolist grays and pastels in the Debussy Chansons de Bilitis to full orchestral technicolor in the concluding Rachmaninoff song. Even better, the pair stuck to their guns in the contemporary theme of the recital by presenting, as the only encore, William Bolcom's Amor from Cabaret Songs. It is exciting to hear an excellent voice supplemented by a sharp mind and good taste.

The next recital in the Young Concert Artists series features pianist Louis Schwizgebel-Wang in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (November 6, 7:30 p.m.). Sasha Cooke will give this recital program later this month on the Young Concert Artists series at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall in New York (October 16, 7:30 p.m.).

UPDATE:
Steve Smith reviewed Sasha Cooke in the same program at Zankel Hall on October 16, and it appears that she was just as on her game there as she was here. Chapeau!

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