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Her extensive opera background stood soprano Susan Dunn in good stead on a brisk Sunday afternoon at the North Carolina Museum of Art. There the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild presented the latest edition of “Sights and Sounds on Sundays.” The soprano, along with the most able support of pianist David Heid, presented a varied program of songs by five composers covering a time spectrum of some two hundred and fifty years. The fact that all the songs were of a sacred nature justified the program title, “Art of the Divine.”
Handel’s “Dank sei dir, Herr” set the mood early on with its grand manner and florid accompaniment. Except for certain of the Messiah pieces, this is possibly the composer’s best-known work, usually sung as “Thanks Be to Thee.” (There is a slight irony here since some question arises as to whether Handel actually wrote the piece.) The soaring lines established the superb musicianship of singer and accompanist.
The audience next experienced an uncommon side of Respighi, as opposed to his Pines and Fountains. From his Antica poesia popolare armena comes the song “Io sono la Madre” (I am the mother). The singer was able to impart all of the sad drama of such lines as “…forever I am parted from my crucified Child” and “I am the Heart, sad and tearful…” She completely developed the pathos of the grieving character in the relatively short duration of the piece. The enunciation in all three of the Respighi songs was exemplary. This is a proper point in the program to salute the powerful foundation provided by Heid’s piano. Here, that instrument was a near equal partner in establishing the somber mood. Throughout the recital this accompanist seemed supportive and totally responsive to the singer’s dramatic intent.
“Wo find’ ich Trost” (Where can I find comfort) was possibly the finest of the Wolf Morike Lieder set. The singer effectively intoned the cries and musings of, e.g., “…what saves me from death and sin?” and “…I writhe in agony on the ground.” Samuel Barber was represented by selections from his Hermit Songs, a set derived from ancient Irish texts. These songs were premiered by Leontyne Price, with the composer accompanying. A memorable selection was “The Desire for Hermitage,” where the moving soliloquy begs “to be alone, all alone” in a little cell.
The program closed with songs from Hindemith’s Das Marienleben (The Life of Mary). The charm of these pieces and the skill of their presentation tended to remind one that they are all too seldom heard.
The enthusiastic audience experienced an uplifting recital by two skilled artists, made all the more notable by a prodigious feat of memory as Dunn wended her way through these twenty-one songs, in three languages, without so much as the hint of a prompt.