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Renée Fleming in Recital

The news about Renée Fleming these days is less about the Metropolitan Opera season and more about her upcoming turn on Broadway. With the Met set to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her debut on their stage in 2016, Fleming's career may have reached its peak. The beloved American soprano is on a recital tour at the moment, with Russian pianist Olga Kern, and the duo made a stop on Monday evening at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, presented by Washington Performing Arts, who also presented Fleming's last recital here in 2011.

With the selections that suited her, especially in the sets of songs by Rachmaninoff and Richard Strauss, Fleming could still use her voice to exhilarating effect, reaching thrilling heights in Rachmaninoff's A Dream and Spring Waters and caressing the melody tenderly in Strauss's Meinem Kind and Liebeshymnus. Partnering with Kern, a gold medal winner at the Van Cliburn Competition in 2001, was a brilliant move, as it was the pianist who truly animated many of these songs. The often daunting accompaniments of the Rachmaninoff songs, in particular, were supple clay in Kern's hands, with subtle voicings in In the Silence of the Mysterious Night, charming wrong-note accents in The Waterlily, and an uncanny evocation of a babbling brook in Strauss's The Little Brook -- not to mention the delightful lagniappe of the piano transcription of Rachmaninoff's Siren (Lilacs) (op. 21/5). Ending with Strauss, still one of Fleming's greatest strengths as shown in last year's Der Rosenkavalier with the National Symphony Orchestra, was the right choice.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Mastering the art of entertainment: Renée Fleming in recital (Washington Post, February 24)

Tim Smith, The art of song, the art of Renée Fleming (Baltimore Sun, February 25)

Rashod Ollison, Renee Fleming whimsical, exhilarating in performance (The Virginian-Pilot, February 20)
At the same time, many things went awry in this recital. Fleming's intonation was dicey at the start of the Rachmaninoff set, especially in the perilously high ending of the gorgeous song Ne poy, krasavitsa and the squeezed-out high opening of A Dream. Then there was Schumann's celebrated song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben, which opened the recital on shaky ground indeed. With some text issues in spite of Fleming's use of music for this set, this music felt under-rehearsed and a little taken for granted. Nothing in her grab bag of cutesy vocal tics, the little scoops and sobs, could help create the lightness and simplicity required in these songs. Vocal lines that required a little agility felt logy, and only the songs that allowed her to use a broader, more sustained approach worked well, most beautifully in Süßer Freund, du blickest, taken at a rapturous tempo and with an admirable cranking up of musical intensity, and in the gorgeous low range of Nun hast du mir. The encores, which I predicted with almost 100% accuracy to the friend seated next to me, were true to form: another Strauss song (I picked Morgen, but she went with Cäcilie), Gershwin's Summertime, Frederick Loewe's I Could Have Danced All Night (with audience-pleasing singalong verse), and Puccini's O mio babbino caro.

The next important recital on the Washington Performing Arts season will feature pianist András Schiff (March 15, 4 pm), in the Music Center at Strathmore.

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