Irene Gubrud stopped to apologize, last night in the Terrace Theater, after the second group of songs in her recital, a cycle by Prokofiev on poems of Anna Akhmatova. "Clearly," she said, "I am vocally indisposed. But I wanted so much to sing at the Kennedy Center. I hope you will bear with me."
The audience not only bore with her but more or less demanded an encore (the "Berceuse," by Charles Ives) at the end. It was a heart-warming tribute, though a rather cruel imposition on a soprano who was suffering from laryngitis. But Gubrud, who has built a solid singing career despite a childhood accident that left her on crutches, is clearly not a singer to let a few germs stop her.
Judged by its best moments, which came and went like sunshine breaking fitfully through a heavy overcast, her voice is rich, powerful and splendidly controlled. But last night there were times when it simply broke down, and many moments when the tone was veiled with raw edges, the pitch insecure, the dynamics erratic.
What no throat infection could hide was the intelligence and imagination with which the program was chosen and the marvelous sense of style (many styles) that animated her interpretation. The most familiar material on the program was music of Grieg and Richard Strauss, who stand at the outer limit of daring for most song recitalists. And the least familiar material was the most interesting: the haunting Prokofiev cycle, a splendidly varied (but always intensely Spanish) group by Obradors, and above all three wonderfully zany songs by Satie.
Each of these composers is a specialty, a musical world in himself, explored only by the most intrepid. To include them all in one program is a sign of self-confidence that was justified by Gubrud's style even when her vocal cords let her down. I would very much like to hear her do this program again when her throat is in better condition.