Fashion Sense: Songs in Recital. Selected songs by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93), Ermanno Wolk-Ferrai (1876-1948), and Richard Strauss (1864-1949). Kimberly Beasley, soprano, Scott Watkins, piano. Dolphinium Records 190394065997  ©2015 TT: 38:39 Available from CDBaby plus other places.

If this were a recording of basic orchestral, chamber music, or keyboard repertoire, the short playing time of this fine disc would be a complaint. But recitals of art songs are a dwindling form in the recital hall as well as recorded media. This album’s insert makes much of the concept of “fashion,” defined “as the characteristic feature, manner, or mode in which an artistic work is presented.” Kimberly Beasley’s intent is to honor the fashion of the song recital in a menu of carefully considered composers, musical styles, and languages that form “a well-rounded arc of sound and emotion.” Works common to recitals by Debussy and Strauss anchor real rarities by Tchaikovsky and Wolf-Ferrai.

Debussy’s set of three Chansons de Bilitis, which opens this recital, “uses texts from Les Chansons de Bilitis, a collection of fake ancient Greek poetry by Pierre Louys. These are essentially lesbian poems composed in the manner of Sappho. These works share the timeless world of the composer’s L’après-midi d’un faune. “La flȗte de Pan” begins delicately and concludes among the frogs; “Le chevelure” (The Tresses of hair) abounds in luxuriant sensuality; while “Le tombeau des naïades” (The tomb of the Naiads) conjures an eerie world of mystery.

Three selections, Nos. 1, 6, and 7, from 7 Romances, Op. 47 by Tchaikovsky follow. They are “Kaby znala ya” (If only I had known), “Den li tsarit” (Does the day reign?), and “Ya li v pole” (Was I not a little blade of grass in the meadow?). These songs make the most demands upon the singer for vocal power and range of vocal color. In No. 1, a young girl regrets not being able to prearrange a meeting with her lover who had ridden by on the way to the hunt. The single-mindedness of a person in love is expressed in No. 6 while a young girl, in No. 7, despairs having been married off to an unloved older man.

Next come the real rarities – a set of four songs by Wolf-Ferrai entitled Quattro Rispetti, Op. 11. The title refers to the technical term for verses of 8 lines with each line having 11 syllables. The poet is unknown. The titles are “Un verde praticello senza piante,” “Jo dei saluti vene mando mille,” “E tanto c’è pericol ch’io ti lasci,” and “Osi che non sapevo sosirare.” These charming little songs are based upon old Italian texts and are very rarely heard. I found no other recording of them in print nor could I locate the English translations of their titles online. However, their scores are readily available and arranged from high to low voices.

Beasley’s recital ends with superb performances of three familiar songs by Strauss: Zueignung (Dedication), Op. 10, No. 1, Ich trage meine Minne (I bear my love), Op. 32, No. 1, and Heimliche Aufforderung (Secret Invitation), Op. 27, No. 3.

Beasley’s selections reflect considerable intelligence and taste. Her mastery of four languages and vocal technique are consistently evident. Her care for words is reflected in her application of her palette of tone color and carefully shaded dynamics. Her Debussy is intoxicating while her performances of the Tchaikovsky and Strauss are searing and dramatic. Her touch is light and charming in the rare Wolf-Ferrai pieces. Watkins’s keyboard is as skillfully and insightfully deployed as was Beasley’s mastery. Her pleasing voice has a warm tone and is evenly supported across its range.