Sasha Cooke Showcases Vocal, Emotional Range

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke's program included a sensual
Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke's program included a sensual "Asturiana," a Schumann aria and a new "Lullaby." (By Christian Steiner)
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Friday, May 23, 2008

The National Museum of Women in the Arts concluded its free concert series on Wednesday night. In three concerts each season, the museum showcases prominent and emerging female performers of classical music. This recital featured rising mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke in an 80-minute program pairing the familiar with the new.

Scaling the full bloom of her voluptuous voice to the museum's intimate hall, Cooke opened with a suave reading of Manuel de Falla's "Seven Spanish Folksongs." A sensual "Asturiana" was matched by the maternal calm of "Nana," and the male-voiced songs did not have too much macho swagger. Cooke struck the right balance for a good song recitalist, neither emoting grotesquely nor leaving the songs' various characters undifferentiated.

Her final selection, Schumann's "Frauenliebe und Leben," is so familiar that it requires daring to keep it from falling into routine. Cooke had good German pronunciation (though not as impeccable as her Spanish), and a sense of vocal transport at large moments, but the elegance and earnestness were not enough to distinguish her performance.

Sandwiched in between was a world premiere, "Lullaby," an extended setting of a W.H. Auden poem. Its composer, the young and enthusiastic Andrew Norman, employed a harmonic vocabulary including both traditional triads and clustered dissonance. Attentive pianist Pei-Yao Wang provided sure-handed and enveloping accompaniment.

More adventurous programming, such as Cooke offered at her Terrace Theater recital last fall, would have been welcome. Fortunately, encores included glimpses of Cooke's blithe Olga in exquisite Russian (she will perform the role in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" with Israeli Opera this summer), as well as her sly and volatile Carmen.

-- Charles T. Downey

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