In the midst of meteorological upheaval yesterday afternoon, the Phillips Collection's Sunday concert series trudged on, attended by a small but loyal contingency. Soprano Sherry Zannoth and pianist John Wustman provided listeners with a sampling of songs by composers responsible for greatly expanding the form of the art song.
Mozart's unique contribution to the art song was the concert aria, a song written for orchestra and voice and sometimes preceded by recitative. "Misera, dove son!," arranged for voice and piano, was performed yesterday in a lively interpretation that proved to be a rousing opening piece.
A very dramatic selection of songs by Hugo Wolf portrays the continuation of the Brahmsian approach to song, but Zannoth's singing gave the music a chance to breathe, and made clear the composer's concern for silence as a means of building tension between musical phrases. Zannoth's extensive operatic background helped to make these songs particularly exciting.
Three songs from "Ariettes oublie'es" by Debussy, the most contemplative of the set, were done in an astoundingly smooth French style. Wustman began to steal the show at times with his nimble and sensitive playing, particularly in broad arpeggio passages. But the two performers delicately and evenly exchanged musical sighs in the last song, "Spleen."
Maybe the only redeeming quality of Franz Liszt's "Sonnets of Petrarch" is the fact that it includes piano. Notorious for their piano virtuosity, these songs contain mind-boggling piano flourishes that cannot help but cover the vocal melodies.
Generally, Zannoth's voice lacked the sweetness that is especially necessary in French songs. Musical segments sung in the high ranges always rang with a dry, flat sound and her efforts were less concerned with the shaping of phrases. However, Wustman's playing never lost a bit of feeling, and often saved the weighty singing from a lack of expression.