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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Vocal Arts Society

Does Ian Bostridge ever smile during his recitals? He could be singing about spring bursting into bloom, or about the giddy thrill of newfound love, but the grim mask never changes. That's not to say he's emotionally uninvolved with the songs he sings -- indeed, his rangy, lurching physicality suggests someone going through the tortures of the damned -- yet the journey seems self-communing, the audience kept at arm's length.

But, ah, that voice. Plaintive, haunted, stunning in its starkness and purity -- his tenor plumbs emotional depths few singers of art songs ever approach. The aching vulnerability he brought to "Aus den hebraischen Gesangen," in the Vocal Arts Society's all-Schumann program at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Tuesday, was an object lesson in vocal interpretation, as was the predatory lust and casual cynicism in his reading of "Zwei Venetianische Lieder."

But what made the recital one of the season's finest was the pairing of Bostridge with soprano Dorothea Roschmann. Hers has to be one of today's most sensually beautiful voices, with its embracing warmth, shimmering texture (borne of a softly flickering vibrato) and rounded and lustrous high notes. An engaging presence onstage, she matched the tenor's word-pointing phrase for phrase, both in the ravishing Duets, Op. 34 and 78, and in Schumann's sublime and scandalously little-heard song cycle, "Myrten."

Julius Drake was a model Schumann pianist, making the music sound freshly improvised, and allowing the composer's galloping exuberance free rein.

-- Joe Banno

Musicians From Marlboro

If you like your music passionate to the point of incandescence, you belonged at the Freer Gallery on Tuesday night for the last of this season's three "Musicians From Marlboro" concerts. The program opened with Mozart's Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546, for string quartet, and the Adagio has all the pretty, gracile wit you expect from Mozart -- so let's just move impatiently to the astounding fugue that follows.

It may have been written as an exercise, but the Marlboro players built it into a juggernaut of relentless power, magnificent in its disdain for mere melody and almost too vast to be contained in the human head. Once the stage cooled, the fine young baritone Charles Mays Jr. delivered a fresh and colorful account of Schumann's Dichterliebe song cycle, Op. 48, bringing a sharp sense of irony to this often over-dramatized work. Good as he was, though, Mays was nearly upstaged by accompanist Ieva Jokubaviciute, who nailed every note with razor-sharp intelligence and wit.

But the best was saved for last. Before he was crowned the Darth Vader of modern music, Arnold Schoenberg was a full-fledged romantic, and his string sextet known as "Verklarte Nacht" has at least one foot firmly in the 19th century. Its lush emotional landscape can be suffocating in the wrong hands, but the Marlboro players, led by the prodigiously talented violinist Susie Park, gave it a superb performance in every way.

-- Stephen Brookes


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