Bass Jules Bastin and pianist Daniel Blumenthal presented a real song recital Friday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. It was wall-to-wall song, filled with all the drama and emotion that opera so often promises and so seldom delivers.
Bastin has not a naturally beautiful voice, but everything he does is filled with intense beauty. The voice is vibrant, sprightly and wonderfully youthful in spirit and timbre. The poetry is what matters with Bastin; every word is crystal clear, every meaning is distinct, and the listener's attention never wanders from the frame of the song. He means what he sings. This was especially evident and moving in the Brahms "Four Serious Songs." These songs are frequently deadly with a heavy sentimentality. With Bastin, they were alive and strong, words and music that one wanted to remember.
Bastin had the wisdom to work with Blumenthal, whose collaboration from the piano is total. The recital was a duo, one based, as it should be, on the demands of the music. Blumenthal gave the Brahms cycle real substance, matching the singer's belief in the words with his own for the music.
The second half of the program was French, songs by the Belgian Pelemans, Ibert, Ravel and Poulenc. It was a roistering group of drinking songs, love songs and general carousing. Bastin is at his best with these, because he knows that the light touch is not the same as clowning. It was storytelling coupled to the art of singing.