In spite of the most recent cuts to the academic program, the Meredith College Music Department continues to present top-quality concerts. The latest in a long line of stellar performers are mezzo-soprano Jennifer Gaspar, and pianist David Heid, who performed an inspiring program in the middle of a lazy afternoon. Clearly the result of a strong collaborative effort, the performance of these two musicians exemplified the type of mutual artistic cooperation that a student of any instrument would do well to imitate.
From the beginning of Francesco Cilea’s “Acerba voluttà…O vagabonda stella,” the ease and assurance of both Gaspar and Heid was evident. Gaspar’s warm tone and formidable power were immediately apparent, and Heid’s intuitive accompanying served him well. The requisite German set, five songs from Möricke-Lieder, Goethe-Lieder, and Spanisches Liederbuch, by Hugo Wolf, was stylistically well suited to Gaspar’s timbre. While her dramatic gestures were appropriate and for the most part tasteful, the motions seemed standardized or uncreative — at times, even stiff. The phrasing on the part of both musicians, however, was far beyond this listener’s expectations. The three sections of the piece ranged from tense to insecure to longing; each emotion affected the musical interpretation in imperceptible but effective ways. Sensitive to the music and text, subtle, yet effective, and incredibly detailed, the minute phrase shaping brought dense harmonies and unforgiving consonants to life.
The French sampling was a favorite Saint-Saëns aria, “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson et Dalila. David Heid’s skillful fingers made this selection particularly memorable. As a student and a pianist, I was particularly over-awed by his easy mastery of the treacherous introduction. This passage was included in my accompanying class as a — quite literally — “textbook” example of difficult, non-pianistic orchestra transcription. I would never have guessed it, however, from Heid’s gentle timbre variations and fluent, dreamy execution. Gaspar also was more in her element; she played Dalila’s latent danger and manipulation to perfection.
Proving especially refreshing after a program consisting almost entirely of late Romantic music, the concert ended with a healthy dose of Bolcom and Bernstein. These selections, especially “I Am Easily Assimilated” from Bernstein’s Candide, were riotously fun after indulging in so much sentiment. The selection from Cabaret Songs elicited some chuckles from the audience, but “Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise” was by far the most successful and engaging. The catalogue of casseroles went at a pace that somehow left the performers unfazed but the audience breathless with laughter.