Emily Stauch's Poèms d'Amour

      Soprano Emily Stauch regaled us with a sumptuous feast of songs of love at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, January 21, 2007. Charles Woodward at the piano created a musical frame for her voice in Hector Berlioz (1803 -1869) Les Nuits d'eté, Op. 7 (Summer Nights). The six songs demonstrated how deeply sensitive Berlioz is to poetry's expressive content . Since they were not commissioned by anyone, these poems by his personal friend, Théophile Gautier, may have been set because they reflect the emotional tribulations in his life at that time . Their concentrated mood of longing with an atmosphere of perfumed summer nights creates a beauty and intensity that was spellbinding through all six songs with their ravishing melodies.

      Ms. Stauch sings with a surety of her vocal gift. She came out, stood with a confident and poised carriage and poured forth beautiful sound song after song. Her diction was clear, her French is accomplished and her voice conveys all the refined sensuousness of Berlioz's music.

      Written in 1840 for piano and voice, Berlioz's later orchestration of this cycle is now the familiar version. The instruments of the orchestra add much color to this nobly sentimental and graceful music. Here the piano accompaniment is modest leaving the voice as focus. The first song, Vilanelle (Country Song) is about spring and the blossoming of love - a most happy event. Le spectre de la rose (The specter of the rose). recalls the lovely maiden who wore a rose to the ball. Now withered, the rose is recalled. The vocal line is operatic in each of three sections. Each opens with a cantabile passage only to become fragmented and uneven as the mood of the poetry intensifies. Then a detached, brooding quality develops in the third section where the ending is tender and enfolding, "here lies a rose that every king might envy."

      Sur les lagunes: Lamento (On the lagoons) is a bitter lament, "My beloved is dead, I will weep forever." Each verse ends with a passionate, desparing exclamation. Superbly sung, and thus disturbing. In L'Absence the sense of longing continues the great unappeased desire of the earlier song. In Au cimetière (In the cemetery) the moon rises on a lone dove. A song of young love has dulled with time. The grief is more somber, restrained. Resignation!

      The final song, L'île inconnue (The undiscovered island) returns to the free-spirited tone of the first song. A sailor teases a pretty girl to join him in his travels but only if she can offer eternal love. She shrugs and passion wanes as the voice dies away over a dancing piano.

      The second half of the recital featured songs by Franz Liszt (1811-1886) with some French lyrics. Here the pianist becomes an equal partner in creating the atmosphere of these sentimental lyric songs. The poetry is more generalized in tone, beautiful but not so personally intense. Although setting French poetry, Liszt writes in the fashion of German lied. The emotionalism is more on the surface without the subtlety of Berlioz. Ms. Stauch sang as one possessed by her muse. The seamless communication between pianist and singer was evident from the first song S'il est un charmant gazon (If there is a charming lawn). Also a setting of poetry by Victor Hugo,Oh! quand je dors (Oh When I Slumber) with its exquisite melody is Liszt's best known song. Ms. Stauch sang the flowing vocal phrases sensuously. The piano figures are equally romantic and emotionally moving.

      The last three songs, Freudvoll und leidvoll (Joyful and Sorrowful), Hohe Liebe (Sublime Love) and O lieb' (O Love) are in German. Our singer displayed stunning operatic vocalism with effortless leaps and high notes. The urgency of the text is reflected by the urgency in voice and piano.

      The passionate encore was from Faust by Gounod. The Jewel Song is the only selection we heard that is not on her 2007 CD. The recording seems to have been made in a large, open hall and the sound is less focused than on your average CD. But the passionate singing is all there but if you have the chance, hear this recital live.

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