Post-romantic German art song is gorgeous stuff, but an entire recital of it might be construed as overkill. Soprano Constance Hauman's program at the Austrian Embassy on Thursday piled Zemlinsky's "Maeterlinck Songs" on top of Schreker's Opus 4 songs, Berg's Seven Early Songs and an aria from Berg's opera "Lulu," then added a dollop of Schoenberg's "Brettl-Lieder" for good measure. After 90 minutes, all of that ambiguous tonality and obliquely erotic poetry began to reach the saturation point.
But there was no doubting the music's beauty or stylistic cohesion. Hauman did a fine job of pointing up the differences among these composers, all represented here in early works showcasing the first flush of their genius. Hauman's teasing insinuations brought out the cabaret flavor in the Schoenberg, in clear contrast with the lush treatment she gave the Schreker and Berg, and the Kurt Weill-like mordancy she adopted in the Zemlinsky.
Hauman's is an attractive voice -- creamy and dark-hued at its base, and opening up to brightly shimmering, high notes. It could be argued that she used too much voice, too much of the time -- her extensive opera background seemed to inform her approach to these songs -- but there was plenty of nuance, thanks to careful sculpting of the musical line. Pianist William Vendice's work at the embassy's Bosendorfer was beautifully wrought, most arrestingly in Schreker's rhapsodic keyboard parts.
-- Joe Banno
Musicians From Marlboro III
Thursday was quintet night at the Freer Gallery. And what a night it was: One of those rare times when all the performers -- the Musicians From Marlboro III -- were as one and were clearly enjoying their collaboration. The program was unusual too, consisting entirely of quintets: Mozart's early K. 174, his late K. 516, and Paul Hindemith's "Melancholie," Op. 13, for soprano and four strings. Set to a poem by Christian Morgenstern, "Melancholie" speaks a German expressionist language rich in sonic symbolism, sound-metaphors that the strings expressed in telling gestures. The musicians cast a misty, elegiac spell over the whole. Much of this atmosphere was centered on the viola (Hindemith was a violist) in lines Samuel Rhodes turned to pure gold.
Soprano Hyunah Yu has a voice gently mellow throughout her range. In the Hindemith she subtly channeled the underlying intensity of her sound to provide a fifth voice among equals rather than a solo prevailing over an accompanying quartet.
Both Mozarts (quartets with a second viola) were given absorbing performances, ensembles perfect down to the finest stylistic detail. They took the first Allegro of K. 174 at a spirited pace and unleashed the full force of the Adagio's dissonant impulses. The Menuetto had the rustic turns of an Austrian "Laendler" (Mozart, after all, was Austrian).
Mozart's K. 516 was inevitable, and deep was its course in the hands of the Musicians From Marlboro. The Adagio pulsed, while the finale leaped along at a frisky pace, overflowing with the contrapuntal dialogue of a Mozart opera buffa. All in all, the performance was a knockout.
-- Cecelia Porter