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Turning a Phrase

Kulas Hall, The Cleveland Institute of Music
04/30/2011 -  
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Hear ye, Israel from Elijah
Robert Schumann: Lust der Sturmnacht, Erstes Grün, Stille Thränen from Zwölf Geditchte von Justinas Kerner, Op. 35
Franz Schubert: Ellens Gesänge I, D. 837, II, D. 838, & III, D. 839
Johannes Brahms: Die Mainacht Op. 43, No.2 – Meine Liebe ist grün Op. 63, No.5 – Ständchen, Op. 106, No.1 – Botschaft, Op. 47, No.1
Richard Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder

Catheryne Shuman (soprano), Anne Waltner (piano)

C. Shuman (Courtesy of CIM)

All great singers begin their journeys as students, working their way from beginning songs through conservatory and then more advanced training. Sure, you can tell that some are better than others, but at the highest level, you assume that all possess real talent. Take extraordinary talent, a lot of dedication and that certain something, that “it” factor- some call it star quality- and you have a singer whom you know is destined for great things. Such is Catheryne Shuman, a young woman on the climb to stardom. I first heard her a year ago and was struck by the size and color of her voice, never overly heavy or forced. Now, I am simply blown away by her technique and the maturity of her presentation.

This recital was an overview of mostly German Romantic Lieder, with one exception. She opened with a selection from Elijah, the oratorio whose soprano part was written for Jenny Lind. Ms. Shuman handled the “pitchy” areas of the section well; the forte passages were clear and strong without any loss of control and her English diction clear as a bell.

A standout piece was the Schubert Ave Maria which was sung with deep emotion. Usually, we hear this in the Latin translation, but it is equally beautiful in German. Ms.Shuman took her time with this, never rushing the phrases and floating the sound into the house. It was simply exquisite.

Equally adept at melodic line in both the voice and the piano, Brahms wrote of love in all its forms. In Die Mainacht, the cadences of the phrases combine to make the music match the text. Ms. Shuman negotiated the tricky stressing and phrasing well, with her huge sound in perfect control but never constricted. Her top did become a bit piercing on the second piece but she quickly regained control and she and her accompanist romped through the bouncy Ständchen together. Botschaft was flawless, the full middle voice seeming to grow richer with each line.

Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder, or Four Last Songs, were the final pieces of the composer’s works and have become the popular closing set for many big-name sopranos in recital. Perhaps an ambitious choice for a young singer just turned twenty-four? I need not have worried, for it was here that Ms. Shuman unleashed the full authority of her voice and let it soar. September, with its pretty piano introduction and accompaniment, is perhaps the most pleasing piece of the cycle. Here, the piano has a song-like line with the voice varying it, and Ms.Shuman spun out the phrases until they glowed like richly colored autumn leaves. The piano was off a bit in the beginning of the third verse of the last song which might have rattled a lesser singer, especially at the end of a long program, but no problem, all was quickly put right and the set came to a lovely, quiet end.

The entire recital was well thought out and the sections flowed nicely from one to another, making for a refined, mature program. Ms. Shuman is an elegant, vocally gifted artist in the manner of a young Kiri Te Kanawa or Renée Fleming and we should expect to see her on the stages of major opera houses in the not too distant future.

Suzanne Torrey



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