Jose Oliveira Lopes
Robert Schumann's "Dichterliebe" ("Poet's Love") is a cycle of 16 brief songs sung by a rejected lover who traverses, song by song, his nightmare of pain and bitter desolation. The immense range and depth of feeling Schumann infuses into Heinrich Heine's poetry sets this piece apart. To convey the damaged, acrid beauty of the music and the spiritual ruination just underneath requires a beautiful voice employed by an actor who is absolutely convincing. Tasteful lingering around the surface of the lyrics with dabbled vocal colorations turns Schumann's hurricane into a light spring breeze.
At the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute Tuesday evening, baritone Jose Oliveira Lopes went for the hurricane. But his considerable musicianship and dramatic sensitivities left him (and the audience) short. Under pressure the voice fractured, high notes were badly strained, unattractive sibilations ruptured Schumann's long lines and individual notes wobbled. Pianist Adriano Jordao accompanied but did not fully collaborate; his sound was muffled by a closed piano lid.
The whispery Mussorgsky "Sans Soleil" was quite another matter, with Lopes' voice comfortably nestled in at a lower, more intimate dynamic level. Art songs by obscure (at least in this country) Brazilian composers--Lopes Graca, Croner Vasconcelos, Jayme Ovale and Waldemar Henrique--were harmonically and rhythmically inventive, and sung with charming affection.
The viola da gamba is that throaty, fretted cousin of the cello that gives period instrument ensembles their soulful rasp. Out of fashion since the tail end of the baroque era, they've recently staged a comeback of sorts. We can actually speak now of big-name gambists like Jordi Savall, whose compact discs sell very nicely indeed.
Catharina Meints is one of America's foremost gambists. A founder of Oberlin's Baroque Performance Institute, she's a tireless promoter of viols in all their quirky forms. Her enthusiasm was unmistakable during a lecture-recital at St. John's Church on Tuesday (part of Washington Bach Consort's Rush Hour Concert Series).
A lively speaker, Meints touched on everything from the viol craze spreading through Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries to the imagined life story of the tree her instrument, a gorgeously decorated bass viola de gamba made by Tielke in 1680, was carved from. It boasted a fat lower register, a sinewy middle and top notes with an urgent breathiness.
Meints phrased sonatas by Schenk, Telemann and Abel with the inevitable rise and fall of singing. Breathing with her instrument, she coaxed the widest expressive range from these inventive and virtuosic pieces, from buzzing confidences whispered in the ear to hoarse cries of melancholy. And in the livelier moments of the sonatas--as well as in sprightly shorter pieces by Ortiz and Hume--Meints showed a winning smile in her playing.