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Quinn Kelsey, Vocal Arts Society

This review was written for DCist.

The recitals sponsored by the Vocal Arts Society are usually very well attended. Their latest concert, by Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey, did not have the same draw as some of their other events, but those who turned out to the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Monday evening were rewarded with some excellent singing. In 2005, Kelsey represented the United States at the BBC Singer of the World competition, and he has been appearing at Lyric Opera of Chicago as a member of that company's young artists program for the past three years. His voice is a superb instrument, with some maturing to do but of exceptional promise, a full sound, a broad and well-balanced range, and impressive breath support.

Gerald Finzi, composerThe highlight of the programming was a set of three songs from Gerald Finzi's Let Us Garlands Bring, op. 18, all Shakespeare texts for the Shakespeare in Washington festival. Finzi is a favorite of mine, and these songs have exceptional natural appeal, on which this performance capitalized. The lovely lament Come Away, Come Away, Death was followed by a very slow, slightly plodding rendition of Fear No More the Heat o' the Sun, redeemed by the delicious, interweaving dissonance of the vocal line and accompaniment. The playful It Was a Lover and His Lass concluded this fine set of songs. It may have been better to conclude the recital with the Finzi set instead of the four selections from Modest Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death. Poems all narrated by Death in the midst of liberating different souls, this could hardly be anything other than a downer, in spite of the sensitive music-making.

The other half of the musical partnership was the surprise of the evening, with pianist Tamara Sanikidze suddenly replacing the announced accompanist, Craig Rutenberg, who withdrew because of a broken wrist. (This occurred late enough in the process that the program still listed his name.) Sanikidze, a faculty member at Shenandoah Conservatory and a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, brought a full sound that grew more confident as the evening continued. Even with the piano lid fully open and at her loudest dynamic, Kelsey had more than enough power to match her. Considering the short amount of rehearsal the performers undoubtedly had together, Sanikidze brought admirable intensity and accuracy to much of the recital. The best selections on the first half were four songs from Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which showed off both Kelsey's extraordinary high range and Sanikidze's expressive and technically accomplished playing.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Quinn Kelsey's More Than Just a Pretty Voice (Washington Post, March 21)
Kelsey's extramusical expression is limited by his considerable bulk, requiring him mostly to stand in place, although he has an expressive face. The opening Handel set featured two arias sung by giants, Polyphemus and a Philistine, an example of a good type of role casting for Kelsey. This problem was complicated by the fact that Kelsey sang most of the recital with his face buried in his music, which undermines much of the possible intimacy of a Lieder recital. In spite of a few reservations, this was an enjoyable recital, with several high points. An appreciative audience elicited two encores, both of them rather strange: an unaccompanied version of I Fell in Love with Honolulu and the Abendstern aria from Wagner's Tannhäuser.

The next event sponsored by Vocal Arts Society is the Washington installment of its Art Song Discovery Series, a free concert (April 1, 4 pm) at the Westchester Apartment Building (4000 Cathedral Avenue NW). Lisa Eden and Danielle Talamantes will sing, with R. Timothy McReynolds at the piano.

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