Susan Wallin & Peter Mowrey, "An Evening of American Art Song"

[Author's Note: This review of a faculty recital from Friday will definitely be appearing in this week's Voice. I'm decently pleased with both the way this one turned out and the ease with which I wrote it—I think I'm developing something of the habit behind journalism.]

“An Evening of American Art Song,” presented in Scheide Music Center February 6 by soprano Susan Wallin and accompanist Peter Mowrey, was an evening of rare musical delights, beginning and ending with a voice one would be privileged to hear anywhere, be it Gault Recital Hall or Carnegie Hall. Wallin is fundamentally an extraordinary singer and performer, armed with a beautiful coloratura, impressive range, and dramatic sensitivity—all of which were on full display throughout the rich and varied program.

The recital began with a series of songs by the late-Romantic composer Amy Beach, whose lush, melodic style recalls Puccini or Bizet. Wallin showed a deft attention to both the passionate and the reflective, and the conviction behind her performance more than carried the most traditional set of the night.

She moved into more interesting and surprising musical territory with five contemporary songs by Ricky Ian Gordon in an art-Broadway vein reminiscent of Leonard Bernstein. Gordon's “Coyote” was perhaps the highlight of the entire evening. Wallin threw herself in to the bizarre lyrics with a finessed blend of comedy and pathos—when she proclaimed, “I'll scream until I turn that moon to wax,” you believed it.

She also proved herself superbly attuned to Americanness of Gordon's songs, subtly adapting her tone to suit their unique contours and cadences, whether in the melancholy humming of “Once I Was” or the frenzied ascent of “Poem (Lana Turner Has Collapsed).”

The second half of the program dived into delightfully murky twentieth-century waters with Norman Dello Joio's “Three Songs of Adieu.” Imbued with a dark urgency and extending to the edge of tonality, these offered Wallin ample opportunity to explore their contrasts—really hitting words like “pain,” or fading into an impressive softness at the end of “Farewell.”

Following these was Laurie Altman's jazz-like “reimagining” of eighteenth-century Italian songs. Here, Wallin's voice occasionally fell into a breathier timbre in her only significant misstep of the recital, but the thoughtful attention she lent the syncopations spotlighted the hybrid nature of the work and distinguished her interpretation.

The jazzier songs were proof of Peter Mowrey's exceptional contributions as well. From one composer to the next, he managed each stylistic set distinctly, and while his unshakeable facility at the piano hinted at his own abilities as a soloist, he remained a sensitive accompanist who aptly complemented, but never overpowered, the vocal performance.

The last song of the evening took a sharp turn into light opera (itself a Wooster legacy), specifically Victor Herbert's send-up of the operatic diva, “Art Is Calling for Me,” arranged by Wallin herself. With intermittent quotations from a number of famous operas, among them La Bohème and The Magic Flute, Wallin alluded to her own vast repertoire, and, though she nailed the high Fs from the famous Queen of the Night aria, she proved unafraid to occasionally tweak her ability level to suit the comedy—providing a fitting and lighthearted capstone to a recital of unflagging quality.

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