Art Song of Williamsburg Ends Season on a High Note

      What a way to galvanize an audience! Pamela Armstrong opened her program with Kling! (Resound!) by Richard Strauss. Great quantities of joyous sound poured forth from voice and piano. "Lift the veil from your heart!... New bloom has appeared on the dry plain; sing my soul, sing." And sing is exactly what our recitalist did. Her voice is a lush, full voluptuous instrument and well suited to Strauss' long delicious vocal lines: Die Nacht (The Night), Ständchen (Serenade), Allerseelen (All Saints' Day), a sweet memory of a love in May long ago, contemplated peacefully in old age; Freundliche Vision (Friendly Vision) and All mein Gedanken (All my thoughts like litle birds fly to my beloved's window).

      Music by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999), Four Love Songs came second on the program. Rodrigo is best known for Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) for guitar and orchestra. He wrote a number of songs, none of which I had heard before. Blind at age three, he studied under Dukas and was encouraged by Falla and taught at the University of Madrid from 1947.

      On very spare texts the composer has constructed some very vocally playful songs with wonderful coloristic effects that give a new twist to folk-like Spanish songs. They were a great deal of fun to hear. Ms. Armstrong captured the joy of this light-hearted music.

      To my ear Debussy's Ariettes oubliées are moody and melancholic, even in a song like Chevaux de bois (Wooden Horses). Here we have a song about the excitement of children playing on a carousel. By the time it ends the early energy has been lost and the event has become a sad memory. In C'est l'extase langoreuse (This is extasy), the line "This soul so plaintive in this dormant lament..." is the overall mood. The piano seems to want to burst forth but is held back. Il pleure dans mon coeur (There are tears in my heart) and L'ombre des arbres (The shadow of the trees) are about grief, pain and dashed hopes. The last two - Green and Spleen explore the sensitivity and vulnerability of being in love and available for rejection by the beloved. We identify with these very human emotions and are comforted by this melancholy beauty presented to us by our excellent pianist Melanie Day and our intense soloist Pamela Armstrong.

      The last set of the program featured a century of British and American song, 1850-1950. The set opened with Stephen Foster's Why, no one to love which was followed by Roger Quilter's My Life's Delight, of which Ms. Armstrong said:"This is my comfort song. It is a favorite of mine and I want to share it with you." These love songs from a less hasty era bring a sweet nostaglia to this listener. Benjamin Britten's The Sally Gardens, Aaron Copland's Heart, we will forget him! with text by Emily Dickinson was another comfort song. Another Quilter song Music, when soft voices die is so very sad: "When they are gone, love itself shall slumber on." The set closed with Frank Bridge's Love went a riding. Karen Scott who trained at Julliard found the performance technically near perfect.

      The encore piece was Klänge der Heimat from Die Fledermaus and it gave the audience the flavor of an opera performance by Ms. Armstrong, who will sing Mimi at the Met next season. The second encore was Oliver Cromwell by Benjamin Britten.

      Suzanne Ganschinietz, after attending her first Williamsburg recital, wrote "The program was enhanced by a pre-concert talk given by Genevieve McGiffert, President of Art Song of Williamsburg. For those who missed the lecture, very comprehensive program notes provided a synopsis of each composer's life. These notes, which examine the influences and inspiration of the art songs in the context of the composer's life, further increased one's understanding."       The 2002-2003 season will include three recitals and a preview. Watch for details here.

Pamela Armstrong Opens New York City Opera Season

      In April, 2002, soprano Pamela Armstrong along with pianist Melanie Day gave a most impressive recital for Art Song of Williamsburg where she opened the program with Kling (Resound!) a blockbuster song by Richard Strauss. It was no surprise when we saw a review of her most recent career step forward. She opened the New York City Opera's season with the Richard Strauss opera Capriccio which just happens to be this writer's favorite opera. It is a very sweet exploration of the question of which is most important, words or music, and contains quantities of glorious singing by the leading lady. And the music of the male chorus of servants in the last act is superb. There is no resolution because, of course, in opera, one cannot exist without the other. Congratulations to a fine young singer.

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