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Two widely-experienced and accomplished artists performed "An Evening of Songs and Inspiration" at Temple Beth Or in Raleigh on Sunday evening, September 18. The soprano was Katherine Kaufman Posner, a Metropolitan Opera National Auditions winner who has sung with the opera companies of Santa Fe, Deluth, and San Francisco. She also has performed at the Met and at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall as a recitalist and oratorio singer. She is a voice teacher and vocal coach of note, currently residing in Raleigh. The pianist, Margaret Singer, has had a distinguished career and has work with such illustrious musicians as Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti. She is known as a pianist whose accompaniment "sings" with the singer. Since 1986, she has resided in Europe, where she has been active in several musical ventures.
A number of people were acknowledged in the program for helping to make this concert possible. The helpful program notes were thoughtfully prepared and included English translations of the foreign-language songs. Before the concert began, I pondered the meaning of the program heading, "An Evening of Song and Inspiration." The selections did not particularly reflect a significant intention of inspiration – songs by Beethoven, Gypsy Songs by Brahms, two arias from Carmen, songs on Jewish themes by Ravel. Maybe that was it, but I was still a little in the dark.
The three songs by Beethoven were certainly inspirational to me. Right from the first one – "Ich liebe dich" – we knew we were in for an evening that would be a special experience, hearing a singer to be reckoned with. Rich in timbre, broad in dynamic range, and powerful in expressiveness, Posner's voice filled the sanctuary at Beth Or with warmth and charm that persisted throughout the widely-varied program.
The Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs) of Johannes Brahms was a perfect example of Singer’s piano "singing" with the vocalist. From wistful love-longing to playful dances, the artists performed nearly perfectly together, conjuring up visions of colorful Gypsy wagons, twirling flowered skirts, and rosy sunsets. Posner’s ability to project a song through a total performance was a delight. The first half of the concert closed with the "Habanera" and "Seguidilla" from Bizet’s Carmen. The coquettishness and flirtation that Posner displayed through this iconic opera character certainly inspired me, though I am not sure it was the kind of inspiration the program title referred to.
The second half of the program brought us to Maurice Ravel’s Deux mélodies Hébraiques (listed as Deux Chantes Hebraiques). This was for me the high point of the concert – especially "Kaddish." This ancient Hebrew hymn of praise to God and prayer for peace was the most deeply-moving selection on the program. Posner’s voice soared with emotional conviction, and Singer’s arpeggios and glissandos – Ravel’s impressionism at its most lavish – provided the kind of experience that inspiration is all about. It was a breath of something quite beyond the usual human experience and the kind of thing you take with you that makes life richer and more meaningful.
For her solo piano piece, Singer chose the first part of Ravel’s extremely demanding Gaspard de la nuit. "Ondine" is the first of three poems by French poet Aloysius Bertrand upon which the work is based. Singer’s intimate relationship with the music was apparent, and her performance was awesome despite some minor mechanical problems in the piano.
Copland’s Old American Songs were a delight, and a quartet of Gershwin songs were a joy, though I thought Posner’s voice better suited to the classical art songs. A reprise of "Just another Rumba" nearly brought the house down, and the audience was rewarded with an encore that summed it all up and made the title of the program perfectly clear. Posner spoke to the audience of the Schubertiades, attended by artists, friends, poets, etc., at the Schubert home in Vienna. Most of these evenings ended with Schubert’s "An die Musik" – "To Music O blessed art, how often in dark hours, When the savage ring of life tightens round me, Have you kindled warm love in my heart, Have transported me to a better world!" – and so, too, did this recital. Ah, that was it! All of the music on the program was part of the inspiration. It was an evening of songs and inspiration – and it worked for me.