The Bard's Words Roll Rhapsodically Off These Tongues

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pulled, poked and prodded, Shakespeare came under the musical microscope Thursday evening at the Terrace Theater in the recital of mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley and baritone Stephan Loges. These thoughtful British singers, accompanied in this Vocal Arts Society concert by the superb pianist Roger Vignoles, featured myriad settings of Shakespearean text, with music as diverse and stylish as the master's words.

Shakespeare could open a channel for composers to explore inner turmoil, such as in the somber harmonies of Robert Quilter's "Come Away Death" and Thomas Arne's more dramatically funereal setting of the same "Twelfth Night" excerpt. Other passages inspired more storytelling or attractive scene painting. John Fould's "The Seven Ages of Man," which Loges sang with humor and charm, describes the phases of life with colorful lyricism. And then there were points where the playwright allowed the artists to go right at some raw truth, as in Michael Tippett's explosively compressed "Full fathom five."

The singers genially unfurled this ever-shifting landscape, starting with more pastoral works and gradually building intensity. Selections such as Hubert Parry's "The Willow Song" let Bickley show the pleasing tone and lovely midrange of her voice, while Loges applied his smoky, lithe sound in Geoffrey Bush's "Sigh no more, ladies."

Just before intermission, Bickley turned it up a notch with a brilliantly characterized, gripping account of Joseph Horovitz's "Macbeth," alternately seething, frightening and tender. The singers never let up from there, going from strength to strength, even making something of the trifling listing of the Bard's oeuvre in John Dankworth's "The Compleat Works." Vignoles, who was a lock-step sonic troubadour, sensitively conjured up dense chords here and more open, almost lacy, textures there.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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