Karen Lykes and Kenneth Griffiths Terrific Recital

      A unique selection of art songs was presented at Virginia Wesleyan College's Hofheimer Theater on Sunday, February 1, 2004. The unifying theme was Orientalism. The texts of the songs were written by poets of the middle and far east, or on themes associated with the East by western poets. In conversation Ms. Lykes explained that she had noticed that two or three of her chosen songs had oriental themes and built the rest of the program accordingly.

      From the opening song Les roses d'Ispahan by Gabriel Fauré (1875-1937), it was clear that Ms. Lykes is a genuine and expressive art song interpreter with a very pretty voice. In Georges Bizet's (1838-1875) Adieux de l'hôtesse arabe (The Arab Hostess's Farwell), the vocal part, with a vocalese on the word "Remember," is wildly colorful, lovely and also one of loss. The pianist, Mr. Griffiths, can be dramatic and passionate as needed but also is supportive of the singer - an ideal partner for art song. Medjé (Arab Song) by Charles Gounod (1818-1893) closes this mid-eastern set by French composers.

      The second set was made up of songs on poems by Marianne von Willemer (1784-1860). Von Willemer was a friend to Goethe and these poems were sent to him. He published them as his own in West-östlicker Divan (Poetry Book of East and West) in 1819. It was not until 1850 that she "confessed" that she was the author. Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) Lied der Suleika, Franz Schubert's (1797-1828) Suleika I and Suleika II and Hugo Wolf's (1860-1903) Hochbeglûckt in deiner Liebe were all included. Our vocalist floated some lovely tones as she sang these deeply romantic songs of anticipated, frustrated and realized love. The pianist was excellent. From the stirring opening chords of Suleika I to the long intense opening of the Wolf song to an ending of great intensity, you were aware that a master accompanist was offering you his gifts.

      Songs by Albert Roussel (1869-1937) came after intermission. Instead of following his heart, Roussel joined the French Navy, spent time in Indo China and became an officer. Only at age 25 did he resign and return to France to study music with Vincent D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum. He stayed there to become a professor of counterpoint and later taught Erik Satie and Edgar Varèse. When he married in 1909 he spent his honeymoon in India and south-east Asia.

      The Oxford Dictionary of Music explains that once Roussel was free of D'Indy's influence, he developed a neo-classical style with Stravinsky-esque rhythms, daring harmonies and rich expressive melodies that were often exotically oriental.

      Our performers gave us À un jeune gentilhomme, a charming, subtle song that becomes more impassioned with each verse based on a Chinese ode and Amoureux séparés (Fu-Mi, poet), a song of beauty but with an ending of frustrated love. The last Rousel song, Response d'une épouse sage (Chang Chi, poet), is the tragic tale of love that blossoms too late after she is married into a house of "high lineage."

      Both composers and songs were new to the audience in the next set. Tre poesie persiane by Francesco Santoliquido (1875-1937), an Italian who lived in Tunisia. The picturesque songs we heard are imbued with local coloring with text by Islamic poets. The Grove Dictionary of Music describes his musical language as modified from Debussy by "wayward progressions of mild dissonances recalling Satie" but with real dramatic force. The weighty text of Quando le domandai (Negi de Kamare, poet) explores the question of distance between two lovers and she explains to her questioner that she is his soul, "Who is able to see the soul." The song Io mi levai dal centro della terra (poet Abu-Said) is the story of young lovers. When asked, the young woman explains to her questioner that she will tie her destiny to her own self because she is love, the lover and the loved one, "Because I am the Mirror, the Beauty and the Vision."

      These themes drawn from the Mediterranean coast of Africa are the best Santoliquido has to offer and they were lovely. He founded a concert society and a music school in the local village that later became a conservatory. The Grove Dictionary describes him as an "original talent influenced by Wagner and Debussy." Late in his life his claims in the Fascist press that "modern music was to be shunned as an invention of the Jews" remains a stain on his record.

      As a capstone to this Orientalist program, we were presented Asie by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) from his famous and first significant song cycle Sheherazade. In 1903, the year it was written, Ravel also made a piano version which pares away some of the shimmer but leaves intact the elegance, the tailored lust and the exotic excitement of the orchestral version. The performance was wonderful throughout this piece and the entire program. The encore was L'Âne blanche by Georges Adolphe Hüe (1858-1948). The lover sends his white donkey decked out in silk and jeweled leather to fetch his beloved if she will come.

      Both performers are on the faculty of the College Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. Ms. Lykes is an Associate Professor of Voice and teaches repertory and interpretation to undergraduate students, while Mr. Griffiths teaches repertory and interpretation for graduate piano students. Both have had international experience as students and as professional performers.

      The recital was presented by Virginia Art Song Society. Dean Doss, president, introduced the performers and thanked the Norfolk Commission for the Arts for a grant used for this presentation.

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