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The five seasons: summer, winter, spring, fall, and the eternal season of love!

Los Angeles
Royce Hall, UCLA
05/08/2008 -  
Johannes Brahms: “O Komme, holde Sommernacht”, opus 58 n° 4 – “Meine Liebe ist grün”, opus 63 n° 5
Gustav Mahler: “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft” from Rückert-Lieder
Alban Berg: “Sommertage”, “Im Zimmer” & “Die Nachtigall” from Seven Early Songs
Michel Legrand: “The Summer Knows” from Un été 42
Hugo Wolf: “Geh, Geliebter, geh jetzt’” – “Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten”
Richard Strauss: “Lob des Leidens”, opus 15 n° 3 – “September” from Four last songs
Hector Berlioz: “Villanelle” from Les Nuits d’été, opus 7 n° 1
Olivier Messiaen: “Le Collier” from Poèmes pour Mi
Vernon Duke: “April in Paris”
Franz Schubert: “Die Liebe hat gelogen”, D. 751
Kurt Weill: “September Song”
Joseph Kosma: “Autumn Leaves”
Arnold Schoenberg: “Galathea” from Brettl-Lieder
George Gershwin: “Love Walked In”
Harold Arlen: “A Sleepin’ Bee” from House of Flowers
Richard Danielpour: “I Envy Public Love”
Richard Wagner: “Träume” from Wesendonck-Lieder

Jessye Norman (Soprano), Mark Markham (Piano)

Like Jessye Norman herself, the evening she made for us was powerfully unforgettable. Even the crowd was uncommon, cheering at the edge of an ovation as she walked onstage, then silent as no other audience I have witnessed in Southern California. Ms. Norman’s recital was a deep, brilliant, and original self-portrait. She revealed herself to us as she is: daring, erudite, impossibly gifted, seasoned, mature, wise… a phenomenon. The revelation was that her incredible instrument, the gift of genetics and anatomy, has been matched over the course of her life, by an indomitable spirit that shines through the music, bringing and sustaining that extraordinary vocal power.

The carefully chosen program, subtly but wildly creative, was a key aspect of the evening’s self-portrait. The surprise and depth of her selections matched the overweening force of her performance. Across a broad range of repertoire, the 19th century romantic German lieder were perhaps not as successful as the more modern pieces. But the 20th century, from Berg to Messiaen to Danielpour to American Standards, was so shockingly good that the lieder may have paled simply in comparison.

The opening Brahms and Mahler were not as strong as they might have been, but Alban Berg’s "Sommertage" was wondrous, a seductive introduction to a notoriously challenging composer. Then "The Summer Knows" from Summer of 42 was stunning; no one else could touch her performance. What a surprise choice this early in the recital… as if she had set us up with the stolidity of Lieder just to knock us off our feet with a torch song from a nostalgic film. From a song more associated with Barbra Streisand or Sara Vaughan, she returned to Lieder. Hugo Wolf’s "Geh, Geliebter, geh jetzt’" became a ballad, beautiful and expressive, a story told in song. Then she astonished us again with Berg’s "Im Zimmer". Alban Berg, sweet and lovely, tamed by the enormity of her voice. Her Richard Strauss was splendidly subtle. Now limber and warmed up, she rode Brahms like a stallion.

In Wolf’s "Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten", she was a perfectly sassy Don Giovanni, with Mark Markham on the piano as mischievous virtuoso. Berlioz’ "Villanelle" from the Les Nuits d'été was intimately familiar, gorgeous, a historic performance.

Messiaen’s "Le Collier" was an elegant and daring selection, even in this centenary tribute year. It was radically beautiful, and utterly different from anything else on the program. Her rendition of "April in Paris" was so moving that the audience could not sit still, leaping to applause before she was finished. Within an instant, they were absolutely silent. Before they took an unscheduled intermission, another challenging Alban Berg song seemed written for her.

She opened the second part of the concert with "September", one of Strauss’ Four Last Songs, carved out of marble-like sound. Her Schubert made me want to hear her do an entire concert of his songs, perhaps because he is not a composer often associated with her. Kurt Weill’s "September Song" was a high wire act, a capella. Johnny Mercer and Joseph Kosma, the authors of the "Autumn Leaves", would be honored by Ms. Norman’s phenomenal performance of their classic American song. Her interpretation was operatic, but infinitely tender. She literally hummed one of the verses, engendering a spectacular silence.

Arnold Schoenberg’s "Galathea", another bold but accessible choice of repertoire, felt half way between the opera house and a beer hall. She brought her wide ranging, even disparate program together seamlessly. By the end of the evening, Miss Norman’s “Seasons of Love” made complete sense. Her "Love Walked In" was endearing. Harold Arlen’s "Sleepin’ Bee" was as ravishing as Gershwin’s "Summertime". Richard Danielpour’s "I Envy Public Love" was complex, dramatic and tonal, modern but romantic, and not Broadway. For a finale, she chose something she is renowned for, Wagner’s "Träume". It was resplendent with sweet softness. The last notes of the piano died off into silence. Then the roaring audience was on its feet.

She gave another Richard Strauss song as the first encore, then the “Habanera” from Carmen, magnificently articulated, as I don’t think anyone has ever heard it before.

Thomas Aujero Small



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