For the final segment of mezzo-soprano Ann Wieczorowski's Saturday afternoon program at the Anderson House Museum -- a cheaply strung together medley of a few of Irving Berlin's best-loved songs -- the singer invited the audience to accompany her. Many audience members complied, and the resultant hand-held stroll down memory lane might have been more at home on a tour bus than among the surrounding grand appointments of the Society of the Cincinnati, but it seemed to please the impromptu chorus nonetheless. Those who adore these songs more for their overabundant melodic invention, perennially surprising lyrics and perplexingly perfect balance of simplicity and craft, however, expect more in their performance than Wieczorowski's pallid, almost catatonic renderings.
Considerately, the museum provided listeners with the texts of everything else in the recital, which featured demanding music in several languages (Polish, Czech and Russian included). And it was a good thing, because even with familiarity and quick pre-concert perusal, one was hard-pressed to glean much meaning from Wieczorowski's delivery. She avoided consonants like the plague and seemed chiefly concerned with spending breath expeditiously and preparing high notes.
Wieczorowski's pianist, Dianne Shupp, didn't help her much, even though she followed attentively. Her generally opaque playing, while competent, lacked the same spark of life as the singing. Just how much so became evident near the end of the program, when another pianist turned up to assist in livelier fashion with the world premiere performance of William Penn's interesting and evocative "A Cornfield in July and the River," set to words of Hamlin Garland.