Irene Gubrud made a stunning comeback last night in the Terrace Theater, four years after a Terrace debut that was -- why mince words? -- a disaster. In 1982, Gubrud may have shown more courage than wisdom when she went on with her recital (pleading "I hope you will bear with me") despite a severe case of laryngitis.
Fortunately, the shattered fragments of vocal glory heard on that occasion were enough to encourage a return engagement. And last night's performance justified the confidence of those who invited her back. Once it is warmed up and handling the right kind of material, Gubrud's voice is tonally opulent, well controlled and used with a keen intelligence and well-trained sense of style.
Last night it took a while for this to happen, while she wandered through a warmup group of English songs (mostly by Vaughan Williams) and a Faure' group that seemed almost completely lacking in character or interest. But when she reached a group of five Liszt songs, just before intermission, fireworks began to go off. The quality of the program was sustained right to the end, through three charming neoclassical songs by Joaquin Nin and Rachmaninoff's cycle of Six Songs, Op. 30. She repeated the encore of her debut recital, the enchanting "Berceuse" by Charles Ives, but no restitution was made, this time around, for the music of Prokofiev, Obradors and Satie that received less than full justice in 1982.
The most notable music of the evening was the Liszt group, a triply excellent choice since this year marks the centennial of the composer's death. His songs are shamefully neglected and he was as imaginative a composer for the voice as for the piano. The problem of neglect may be that he is hard to pigeonhole.
All these songs had texts in German (though Liszt has also composed memorably in other languages), but his style is a bit too flamboyant to fit comfortably into the Lieder category. His piano parts (played superbly last night by Margo Garrett) often become miniature tone poems, his melodies sometimes have an almost Italian exuberance, and his style often requires vocal and dramatic power comparable to what was demanded by his son-in-law, Richard Wagner.