Music Review

An Evening of Russian Music, Mostly, at Duke's Baldwin Auditorium

November 4, 2005 - Durham, NC:

Alas, on November 4, too few music lovers attended the fine vocal recital in Baldwin Auditorium to cause the presenters to open the shallow balcony, the problematic hall's "sweet spot." The featured singers were soprano Marina Tregubovich and tenor Dmitry Karpov, soloists from the St. Petersburg Theatre of Opera and Ballet's Mussorgsky Theatre. Susan Dunn, Duke's own diva, was featured in two selections. The Russian vocalists were supported by the company's master accompanist, Aleksandr Smorodkin, while David Heid held forth for Dunn. Two solo piano selections were played by Benjamin Ward. Duke Performances and the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies sponsored the event.

Rachmaninov was the focus of the first half of the concert. There is much of the old "stand and deliver" style in Karpov's presentations. He often simply stands with his hands relaxed at his sides and pours out seamless lines of melody. The tenor has a pleasing, sweet, but not saccharine timbre, a broad range of color, and solid, ringing highs when needed. "Do not trust me, friend" revealed Karpov's mellifluous tone and the even support of his voice. His refined shading of dynamics and sure way with melodic lines were features of "The night is sad." Another set of two songs, "How painful for me" and "Loneliness," brought out his capacity to refine expression, to change moods dramatically, and to deliver passionate, sustained highs.

Restrained use of vibrato and an unusual ability to "float a quiet high note" were memorable qualities of Tregubovich's performances of other Rachmaninov songs. "The answer" and "A dream" demonstrated the evenness of her voice's support throughout its range. "Lilacs" is justly famous for its quiet, gentle beauty. "I wait for thee" is bittersweet and dramatic, ending with a soaring sustained high note. High tessitura and long melodic lines are highpoints of "How fair this spot." The soprano's soaring dramatic highs in "What joy" brought the first half to a brilliant finish.

Benjamin Ward, an associate professor of philosophy, is also active as a pianist. He played two of Rachmaninov's preludes from memory. The Prelude in f sharp minor, Op. 23/1, with its use of crossed hands, went well enough, though it lacked the deep, dark sonority the best pianists bring to it. Alas, I was tempted to look beneath the piano for the missed notes in Prelude in B-flat, Op. 23/2, while trying to ignore the clinkers.

Dunn performed two opera arias with Russian links. With clear enunciation, she sang Lisa's aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame in French. Though she used a score, there was no want of expression and her voice was even across its range. With a "soprano's discretion," she dropped "Pace, pace, mio Dio," from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, which was premiered in 1862 in St. Petersburg. The power and vocal confidence with which she dispatched Elisabeth's aria "Dich, teure Halle," from Wagner's Tannhäuser, dismissed any regrets about the change since it recalled some of her early Decca recordings. As usual, Heid's accompaniments were models of their kind.

Both Russian singers were featured as soloists and in duets from some rare fare. Tregubovich encapsulated the smothering sense of entrapment felt by Katerina in Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in a dramatically effective aria. She darkened her voice aptly for the aria "Suicidal woman," from the composer's Fourteenth Symphony. Smorodkin's subtle but strongly-characterized accompaniments for these two works were outstanding, and his long experience of working with singers was fully evident as he supported his colleagues. Karpov's melodious tone was perfect for Antonio's serenade from Prokofiev's Engagement in a Monastery.

A substantial excerpt from Tchaikovsky's Iolanta found Tregubovich's and Karpov's voices blending gorgeously in the famous duet. Having heard the duet between Marguerite and Faust in Gounod's Faust many times in French, it was disconcerting to hear it sung in Russian by substantially heavier voices, but the charming Glinka duet, "Don't tempt me" made a perfect encore for an enjoyable evening.