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An das Lied, Part One

On Wednesday evening the Austrian Cultural Forum opened its spring series of Austrian Lieder recitals, called An das Lied: Festival of Song 2007. A large audience filled the main hall at the Embassy of Austria to hear a complete performance of Hugo Wolf's Spanisches Liederbuch (a week after the same performers gave this recital at Weill Hall in New York). The main draw, at least by the placement of his name on the program, was baritone Wolfgang Holzmair (previously reviewed by Jens in a 2004 recital and a 2005 recital), who sang all of the male-voiced songs. Even soprano Linda Watson, on one of her evenings off from Hojotoho-ing in the Washington National Opera's production of Die Walküre, came to listen.

Susanna Phillips, photo by Dario Acosta
For all of Holzmair's reputation, it was soprano Susanna Phillips who gave the most beautiful and consistent performance, as the female voice in the secular songs. Her pure sound was flawlessly in tune in all of those difficult chromatic passages, while Holzmair sometimes sagged toward flatness and sounded a little strained in his high range. Phillips also captured the different characters well, while Holzmair's persona, while earnest, was a little cute, an over-dramatic parody of himself, all stock gestures with his glasses or his hands laced together. These Spanish poems, some by famous authors and others anonymous, were known to Wolf in German translations by Emanuel Geibel and Paul Heyse. Phillips acknowledged the Iberian flavor with a red flower in her hair and dressed in a slinky purple dress.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Song Festival Starts Strong (Washington Post, April 13)
The singers reordered the songs to emphasize the aspect of male-female dialogue and, more importantly, interpolated the Geistliche Lieder as a middle set between two sets of Weltliche Lieder. For the sacred songs, mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck sang the female voice, with intensity derived from careful attention to the words, as well as a luscious low range (but an upper range that turns slightly shrill). These are some of my favorite songs, in which the poems apply the force and magnetism of physical love between people to the spiritual attraction of the soul toward God and holiness. In some ways, the most difficult part in many Wolf songs is for the pianist, and accompanist Russell Ryan was in generally fine form through what was over a two-hour program. A charming encore offered yet more Wolf, Epiphanias from the Goethe-Lieder, with a couple of interjected lines sung by Russell Ryan from the bench of the Austrian Embassy's gorgeous Bösendorfer.

The An das Lied Festival continues through May 24. The performances organized by the artistic directors, pianists Thomas Bagwell and Markus Vorzellner, feature young singers in recitals devoted to Viennese composers from the classical period to the present: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (John Dickie, April 16); Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin (Jesse Blumberg, April 18); Brahms and Wolf (Arisa Kusumi and Thomas Meglioranza, April 20); Mahler (Scott Murphree and Robert Gardner, April 24); Zemlinksy, Schreker, and Berg (Hermine Haselböck, April 28); and many more. All of the remaining recitals begin at 7:30 pm and are free (but make a reservation).

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