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This vocal recital also featured two of the crown jewels of Elon University, the intimate acoustics of Whitley Auditorium and the crystalline sounds of their beautifully restored 1922 Steinway Model D piano. These provided the icing on the cake for an imaginative program by the faculty team of mezzo-soprano Hallie Coppedge Hogan and pianist Charles Hogan. The challenging survey of vocal music was leavened with some solo keyboard pieces of equal merit. Upon a large screen, placed to the right of the piano, were projected broad summaries in English of the vocal texts or full texts and translations for the poems that inspired the solo keyboard music.
Charles Hogan's three solo works served to display his considerable technical skill and give the singer time to rest or prepare for a change of vocal style. An unusual and rare piano arrangement of "Come Again, Sweet Love" from the First Book of Songes or Ayres (1597) by John Dowland (1563?-1626) served as a sandwich between two fascinating settings of a text by Giovanni Battista Guarini (1538-1612). It is not unusual to hear piano arrangements of harpsichord pieces of Domenico Scarlatti but this was my first encounter with a piano arrangement of a work written for the lute. Hogan scaled his dynamics aptly and executed the delicate trills and figurations superbly.
Hogan's keyboard humor and wit were on full display in Sechs Variationen in G über "Nel cor più non mi sento," WoO 70 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). This is a charming and popular set of six variations on a soprano aria from Act II from the opera L'Amor Contrastatos, ossia La Molinara (1788) by Giovanni Paisiello. Each variation was given with flair, and the audience was in stitches when Hogan held a silence a little longer than expected.
"Quejas ó La maja y el ruiseñor," from the suite Goyescas, Op. 11, by Enrique Granados (1867-1916), has much less Spanish flavor than typical works by Albéniz or de Falla. This fourth piece from the set is like a wistful nocturne, heavily ornamented and filled with challenges to the pianist's dexterity, described in Wikipedia (and in several other places, online) as "filled with intricate figuration, inner voices and, near the end, glittering bird-like trills and quicksilver arpeggios." Hogan's performance was breathtaking as he fully exploited the old Steinway's kaleidoscope of color and extraordinary quick responsiveness.
Hallie Coppedge Hogan's opening pairing of two settings of the same text by Guarini was fascinating and ought to be committed to a recording. "Amarilli, mia bella" is a love lament in the stile recitativo, the then-new style of monody, by Giulio Caccini (1546-1618); it was originally written for voice and basso continuo. The singer's diction was excellent, and her warm mezzo-soprano voice was beautifully scaled for this late Renaissance work. Hogan's keyboard was suggestive of the trills of a more delicate instrument. The setting of the same text by Richard Pearson Thomas (b.1957) was most striking, both for its contrast as well as its own merits.
The piano accompaniment is wholly performed by mallet-struck strings. The subtle and eerie support this gives reminds me of the music of Moorish and Sephardic Spain as played by such groups as The Baltimore Consort. The vocalist performed its long, arching vocal lines superbly. This work, and this specific pairing, ought to become part of the standard repertory.
Frauenliebe und -Leben (A Woman's Love and Life), Op. 42 (1840), by Robert Schumann (1810-56), is a cycle of eight songs set to poems written in 1830 by Adelbert von Chamisso. They describe, from a woman's point of view, her love for a man, from first infatuation, courtship, marriage, and childbirth to his death. The enunciation was excellent, and the gamut of emotions was fully conveyed with restrained gestures and vocal inflection. Her control of dynamics and tone was superb, and Hogan's keyboard support was apt.
A chance to hear Miss Manners on Music (1998), by Dominick Argento (b.1927), was eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint! Argento is famous for several operas including Postcard from Morocco, Miss Havisham's Fire, and The Aspern Papers, plus several song cycles. The winner (in 1975) of the Pulitzer Prize for Music freely utilizes tonality and atonality but with a lyrical treatment of so-called twelve-tone writing. Sensitive settings of complex and sophisticated texts are one of his hallmarks.
Judith S. Martin is a syndicated columnist who writes under the name "Miss Manners" and gives etiquette rulings for modern times. Her husband commissioned Argento to compose the cycle, Miss Manners on Music (1998), for her 60th birthday. The terse seven songs use witty texts from her columns of advice to her "Gentle Reader" (sometimes cited as "Dear Reader"). The soloist pulled out all the stops (and sailed over the noise of a passing train near the end) to deliver the juicy and sharp humor of the Readers' questions and the columnist's replies. There was plenty of visual as well as aural wit. The piano part for No. 4, "Manners for Contemporary Music," was a particular challenge that Hogan met in spades. The cycle covers the gamut from talkative concert goers to when to applaud or boo. Whitley's lively acoustics sometimes obscured some of the delivery of the vocal lines. Bravo for a delightful and broadly conceived recital!
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