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Lohengrin Sings Schumann

Sunday's concert (on February 22, the 2486th in the Sunday Concert Series) at the National Gallery of Art bore a little surprise. Acclaimed young tenor Carl Halvorson who has a delightfully modern repertoire and has recently been hailed for his performances in Benjamin Britten's operas was ill and thus prevented from returning to the National Gallery of Art's West Garden Court (see the original program). With just two days' notice, the notable locals Jon Lackey and James Jelasic stepped in. The new program consisted of four short songs and two of the great German Romantic song cycles, An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved), op. 98, by Ludwig van Beethoven, and Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe [Poet's love], op. 48.

The first piece was Lungi dal caro bene (Far from my beloved), by Giuseppe Sarti (1729–1802, Google count 2,110). I myself had not heard of the composer before, but the light and sweet melody that ensued I have. Perhaps in a piece by the composer from whom this one was lifted? The piano parts might be delicate, but Mr. Lackey's voice immediately boomed right over it. Singing full throttle and compounded by the special acoustics of the West Garden Court made this almost obtrusive. What could have been a perfectly subtle and charmingly light song about another "distant beloved" was thus drowned out in its own sound.

A hundred years later, Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846–1916, Google count 23,200) composed Ideale, a song set to the poetic exaltations of a romantically gifted stalker ("I followed you like a flower of peace along the roads of the sky"). It sounds conspicuously similar to Sarti's Lied, just less delicate. But then, nothing is delicate when Jon Lackey sings at a level that seems to betray some unfamiliarity with the resonant qualities of the venue.

Roger Quilter's (1877–1953, Google count 9,320) Go, Lovely Rose, composed yet another 50 years later, is a harmless piece. Standard phrases of music attached to one another, with an uninspired piano accompaniment, to the extent that one can hear the piano at all. If I don't want to accuse Mr. Lackey of downright screaming at me, it is only because he seems to be a fine singer. Sure, in his favorite range he lets go and enjoys his own voice a bit much, and he sings Tosti songs like he was Lohengrin, sliding up to high notes, but none of this is so awful as to rob the effort of merit. Deep River (you can listen to an MP3 version, arranged by Harry Burleigh), an American spiritual, ended part one of the concert. It is so far removed from my musical predilections that my comments could not possibly do it justice. But it led into the Beethoven, which I quite like.

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