The words of mystic poet William Blake received an excellent musical interpretation Friday night when soprano Judith Nelson collaborated with oboist Gerard Reuter in Ralph Vaughan Williams's "Ten Blake Songs." The ultimate test of Nelson's artistry came in lengthy a cappella sections, and here she triumphed, maintaining tonal brilliance and an arresting dramatic quality.
Sharing the program with other musicians, the soprano and oboist performed as part of the Library of Congress chamber music series held at the National Academy of Sciences. Reuter took center stage with Telemann's Sonata in G Minor from "Tafelmusik." He fluidly played the opening Largo with a clear, penetrating tone and then agilely raced through the intricate Presto and Allegro.
In Louis Andriessen's "Overture to Orpheus," harpsichordist Colin Tilney used his precise, pristine technique to create hypnotic effects through repetitive patterns and a steady, pulsating beat. Later, in two Scarlatti sonatas, he sped splendidly through scales and trills.
The evening's highlight was the premiere of "Persuasions," a solo cantata with instrumental interludes written by American composer Richard Wilson and based on texts by 17th-century poet Thomas Carew. Flutist Sara Stern and contrabassoonist Carol Malone Aufmann joined Tilney and Reuter in the playful, meandering prelude. Nelson's rendering of the graceful vocal lines, which often moved from declamatory patterns to melismatic expansions, was enhanced in the second section by the intricate, at times dissonant, backdrop of Stern's alto flute and Reuter's English horn.