There was an intensity of communication in Dame Janet Baker's singing last night in the Kennedy Center that, matched by a stream of radiantly beautiful tone, created one of the great song recitals.
With Martin Isepp offering ideal partnership at the piano, the great British mezzo presented her enthusiastic listeners with a classic song recital that moved from older Italian and French songs to a group of largely unfamiliar Schuberts. Five exquisite though neglected songs by Mendelssohn completed the first half of the evening.
A group of five of the loveliest songs by Faure brought Dame Janet to three of Aaron Copland's songs to poems by Emily Dickinson. It sounded, at the end of the third of these, "The Chariot," as if the applause reached its peak. But that could easily have been a delusion, since there had frequently been a tumult and shouting, so completely captured by the superb singing were Baker's hearers.
With a daring touch, the singer closed her concert as she had begun it, with the very softest singing. This is art as well as music and drama. The final three songs were from the early pages of Charles Ives, ending with "Nature Way."
There was not a moment during the recital when the great artist was not demonstrating her mastery of the art of song, with hushed quiet phrases, or grandly open, thrilling passages, like those in Mendelssohn's "Hexenlied."
Words and phrases began and ended with clarity at every dynamic level, and the sense of the music was conveyed in each song as the singer, with her overview of the entire evening, gave each one its full measure of beauty. There is no other artist quite like her now before the public.