Elly Ameling has a very pretty voice. Unfortunately, there is much more to great music, and most of her very pretty Kennedy Center recital Saturday night fell between the smug and the bland.
Robert Schumann's "Liederkreis," Op. 39, took up the first half of the program. There is an edge of anguish to these simple romantic poems by Eichendorff, and Schumann's setting reflects coming madness as well as passion for his beloved Clara. They are beautiful songs, but they are so much more. Except for a very lovely "Wehmut," Ameling's reading was not enough. "Mondnacht" particularly suffered, and this ecstatic song, which has attracted singers from Fischer-Dieskau to Streisand, has rarely received such superficial treatment.
To be frank, the voice has matured quite a bit since Ameling's inauspicious "Idomeneo" Washington debut eight years ago. Her light instrument is now a tad less even and that much more human. There is a new, dark, smoky sound in the low voice, evident in the last phrase of "In der Frende" and especially effective in "Zwielicht" and several French songs. In the latter there were echoes, not of the great lieder tradition, but of chanteuses from Lucienne Boyer to Elly Stone -- and that was the one welcome change of sound throughout the evening.
There was nervous, breathless panting in Berlioz's "Villanelle," but Ameling's French diction was as impeccable as her German. Chausson's "Nanny" and "Le Colibri" were unexpectedly assertive. Her Spanish was not intelligible, however. And, after the most unidiomatic "Granados" in memory, all humor was labored and lost in Turina's impressionist gem "Las Locas por Amor."
The audience was enthusiastic, and Elly Ameling gave them encores not only at the close, but before the first intermission as well.