Hei-Kyung Hong seemed like a fish out of water for most of her recital Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, presented by Vocal Arts D.C. The soprano, in her 50s, has made a career as an opera singer. Her brief, somewhat dutifully performed program of art songs, in German and Korean, left room for three operatic encores, where a voice once inhibited seemed finally to burst forth.
Hong was at her best in slow songs with long melodic lines, like Schubert’s “Nacht und Träume” and “Ständchen,” which showcased her full, round tone and solid breath support. In faster, busier songs, her vibrato activated the sound with a less flattering, nervous quality, and the German diction sometimes became just slightly garbled. Hong’s program was anchored on Schumann’s song cycle “Frauenliebe und -leben,” not exactly an innovative choice, and performed here with dignity but without any other particular distinction. Accomplished accompanist Vlad Iftinca held one’s attention during that cycle’s many piano interludes and postludes.
A set of Korean songs, by composers who came to the fore after the end of the country’s occupation by Japan, was a pleasant surprise. Some of these pieces were distinguished, negatively, by a cheesy tonal style, but Sung-Tae Kim’s “Dong Shim Cho” was a quite pretty, Puccini-esque lament. Doo-Hwae Koo’s “Bird’s Song” offered Hong a chance to make some charmingly avian warbles and screeches, although the high notes, avoided for much of the recital, sounded dusty at times. Occasional hoarseness, evinced by coughing, had worsened by a final Richard Strauss set, but those three Puccini encores seemed to revive both Hong and her audience.
Downey is a freelance writer.