The second recital in this year's Smedes Parlor series, given on November 12, was a delightful evening of art songs in four different languages presented by soprano Judith Bruno with most able accompaniment for all but one cycle provided by pianist Barbara McKenzie. Bruno's spouse, Michael Cyzewski, joined her for American composer Gordon Jacob's (1895-1984) Three Songs for Soprano Voice and Clarinet , which opened the second half of the program. She gave a program that progressed in near chronological order from an impressive opening to an astounding climax.
The first set was a pair of Italian works, one a song by Andrea Falconieri, arguably one of the earliest in the repertoire, the other a lengthy aria by Pergolesi from his intermezzo La Serva Padrona . They were beautifully presented with excellent diction and dramatic expression. There followed three songs by Austrian composer Joseph Marx (1882-1964), whose works are now largely forgotten or ignored, perhaps because of their late-Romantic Second Viennese school lushness, but they also had interesting twists and turns whose origins were in Schoenberg's experimentalism. They, too, were gorgeously sung, again with precise, intelligible diction; Bruno made a very good case for their revival. Closing the first half were two songs from Claude Debussy's Ariettes oubliées : "C'est l'extase" and "Chevaux de bois." Diction was superb here, too, and the French nearly flawless, but it would have been nice to hear the complete set.
The second half of the program was entirely in English. The Jacob set was very interesting, the dialogues between the voice and the instrument creating a sort of triptych form in their own right, with the outer movements surrounding a central one in an opposing style. Bringing the evening to a spectacular close was Libby Larsen's Songs from Letters: Calamity Jane to her Daughter Janey (1880-1902). This was a real tour de force both in composition and dramatic rendition and elicited well-deserved lengthy applause from the house that was sparser than usual for this series, due no doubt to the unpleasant weather. Soprano Terry Rhodes gave her rendition of this work in her multimedia presentation "Women of the Wild West," my review of which can be found in our archives.
The single-sheet program was attractively laid out, as usual here, but format and capitalization were wrong for the French titles, curiously since the same conventions apply and were correct for the Italian ones! A note requesting the audience to hold applause until after the sets were complete would have been useful, however; it took many of the listeners until the Debussy to catch on, hints in Bruno's oral commentary that compensated extremely well for the lack of program notes notwithstanding! Artist bios on the reverse were succinct and informative. The accompanying text sheet was, however, a major disappointment because only translations were provided for those songs not originally in English, and poets were nowhere credited, so locating the very interesting texts for the Jacob set would be impossible for the listener wishing to read them. This drawback aside, Bruno was in fine voice and gave a memorable performance. A really good accompanist, or as is more commonly said today, collaborative artist, is not always easy to find; Bruno managed to find two, one for keeps! We should like to hear her more often in similarly creative and varied programs featuring some more equally unusual and overlooked works.