Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung has a big voice, which she deployed to blazing effect in a recital Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, presented by Vocal Arts D.C. One could complain, perhaps, about a lack of subtlety, but subtlety is not only about volume. While DeYoung shook the rafters at times, she revealed a love of reciting poetry in music, especially in German, which is the most important quality for a vocal recital.
A Brahms set was an ideal opening, with accompanist Kevin Murphy matching DeYoung ideally in tone and volume. This was big-boned Brahms, the bass-leaning piano parts setting the mood for DeYoung’s dark, intense sound. Strauss’s “Heimliche Aufforderung” had a more orchestral sweep, as piano and voice expertly paced the crescendo of the final phrases into a climactic shout. Strauss’s “Ruhe, Meine Seele!” had a similar striking crescendo, contrasted by the air of mysterious solitude of the song’s introduction.
Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Spanish Folksongs” proved less comfortable, not least because DeYoung’s Spanish was not as perfect in diction as her German. Some of the tempo choices seemed slow, perhaps to accommodate the singer’s lack of agility in fast passages. DeYoung lost the thread of this set somewhere around the lullaby “Nana,” as the necessary range of tone quality eluded her.
Little matter, since the second half returned to German songs, beginning with an extraordinary take on Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer.” Even the second song, “Ging Heut Morgen,” was pervaded by a tragic air, and the sense of the narrator’s anguish was implacable in the third and fourth songs. If Strauss was good for DeYoung, two songs by Joseph Marx were even better. An unannounced switch put Marx’s “Der Ton” last, and the poem’s image of a mighty sound that rises up, a volcanic force within the body, could be DeYoung’s calling card.