"The attendance has been far beyond our expectations," pianist Alan Mandel told the audience last night at the final concert of the American University's three-day festival of Scandinavian music. "I applaud your sense of adventure," he said.
The audience might have returned the applause for the performers' sense of adventure--and, in fact, did so warmly throughout the concert, which focused on vocal music with soprano Elizabeth Kirkpatrick and baritone Jerome Barry performing songs by a dozen composers from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.
Only two composers' names would have been recognizable to most non-specialists in the audience: Edvard Grieg, whose piano concerto and "Peer Gynt" Suite are favorites with concert audiences, and Hugo Alfven, whose Swedish Rhapsody is one of the most delightful numbers in the light concert repertoire.
Among the 10 other composers on the program, there was a considerable variety of style, though a rich and sometimes rather sentimental romanticism was predominant--often tinged with traces of folk idioms and almost universally charming and melodically graceful. Four of the composers represented still are alive, and three of them--remarkably--offered songs with English texts. Perhaps the most memorable was Lief Segerstam, whose setting of three poems by Walt Whitman dwelt moodily and very effectively on the brevity of life. They were beautifully sung by Kirkpatrick with effective accompaniment by Mandel. Kirkpatrick also was featured in the "Make Believe Rag" by Magne Hegdal, which included snappy ragtime music on the piano, a rather surrealistic set of English lyrics and a few dance steps by the soprano in the middle of her singing.
Eskil Hemberg's setting of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot got off to a very promising beginning after a piano introduction that blended romantic idioms with those of the cocktail lounge. But the setting stopped midway in the poem, after the line "Let us go and make our visit," leaving this member of the audience eager to hear more--particularly since it had been sung so effectively by Jerome Barry. That seemed to be a general feeling not only in relation to this song but in relation to the entire content of the Scandinavian Festival, which has been revealing unexpected richness in the music of the northern countries with each new installment.