Soprano Linda Mabbs closed this season's music series at the Phillips yesterday afternoon with a recital of infinite grace. Her voice was light and agile, her tone was clear and sure, and her intelligence was radiant.
It is this latter quality which makes Mabbs so special a singer. She possesses that rare capacity to transform a song through the sheer force of her understanding. There are certainly larger and richer voices than hers, but her art enables her to transcend these limitations.
This gift was particularly apparent in a series of songs by Faure. Though her tone is not sensuous, she made it seem so by embodying the languid intent of Verlaine's poetry in delicate phrasing and veiled timbres. Often, in this music and throughout the program, Mabbs revealed a sensitive control of line that sent pleasurable shivers through her audience.
The opening Handel arias, which are a natural for Mabbs' voice, displayed her facility for gracious ornamentation. The most powerful moments came in a Britten song cycle to poetry of W.H. Auden, whose articulate urbanity was right up her alley. Pianist Michael Cordovana provided solid support, assisted by clarinetist Charles Walthall and French horn player Orrin Olson in two Schubert songs.