As Shirley Verrett moved through her recital in the Kennedy Center on Saturday night, she showed, with each added song, that she is one of the matchless recitalists today -- rare indeed.
If my ears were accurate, the greatest applause of the evening came at the end of a group of three American songs of the kind that notable American recitalists used to program regularly, but that have been missing too much from our concerts in recent years. The three, sung without applause between them, were David Diamond's wrenchingly beautiful "David Mourns for Absalom," "The Crucifixion," by Samuel Barber, and David Guion's "I Talked to God Last Night."
In some ways Verrett was at her absolute greatest in the Guion, for she took what would be in lesser hands a rather slender affair, and with integrity and artistic perception, made it a moment of shattering power. She was no less impressive with Diamond and Barber.
A group of five Shubert songs carried Verrett to the first high point as she reached a special level in "In der Ferne." Having sung brilliant coloratura in three arias by Pergolesi, Verrett became a lyric poet in four songs by Chausson, making "Les heures" and "Les papillons" matters of captivating delicacy. As for "Il est doux, il est bon." at the end of the concert, it is ideal for Verrett in its grand, sensuous style.
Warren Wilson played variably, growing in strength as he reached the American songs.