Here’s a welcome addition to the CD collections of anyone who enjoys romantic art songs or those seeking comfort and joy when relationships sour, succeed or only manifest themselves in dreams.
The texts are in German and Spanish, but, thanks to the industry of the producers, the poetry is also printed in English; similarly, Rudolph H. Weingartner’s helpful program notes are printed in three languages.
The interpreter of all these texts is soprano Jessica Rivera, joined for this recording by clarinetist Eleanor Weingartner and pianist L. Mark Carver. The chosen selections go far beyond mere voice and accompaniment, the interwoven writing is more aptly described as chamber music where three equals band together to recreate the wide-ranging scores.
In many ways, that explains why the most famous work (Schubert’s glorious Der Hirt auf dem Felsen) is the least successful of the program. The introduction begins promisingly: Carver (as he will prove throughout) is the soul of discretion and thoughtful understatement; once her first legato octave leap is behind her, Weingartner produces a lean, supple tone along with quietly-sensitive phrasing. As soon as Rivera enters, it’s clear the recording balance was set to favour her strong flexible voice at the expense of her colleagues. Unfortunately, with so much musical dialogue and phrase echoes between clarinet and voice, the composer’s intended result would certainly have been heard in the studio (Auditorio Blas Galindo) but is missing in action in the digital capture. (At times, the piano seems to be in another room with the door left open.)
Happily, many of the other pieces don’t suffer the same fate due to recording adjustments (over a three-day period) and the writing itself. And what fine writing it is!
The other German offering is Louis Spohr’s Sechs deutsche Lieder. The fourth of those (“Wiegenlied”)—a lullaby for all ages—is absolutely superb. Absent in the pain of the Shepherd (“I am consumed in misery”), Rivera establishes and maintains a subtle, loving hue here that is ideal. Weingartner responds in kind and is a marvellously effective “rustle in the wind.” Carver supports and leads when required, crafting a reluctant adieu that is a model of bliss and rest. The secret pain that follows finds just the right tone for the moment of joint jubilation and slips into the major mode with deceptive ease. Starting out with a near-quote from the Schubert, the final song features a beautifully controlled Perpetuum mobile of flowing notes and ornaments from Weingartner as Rivera catches the brooding mood and never lets go.
The Spanish selections are a pleasure at every turn. Closing the album with Tony Taño’s arrangement of Tres Canciones Mexicanas is the perfect sherbet to the heavy meal of anguish and rapture that precedes. Rivera is the ideal protagonist, driving through the well-known melodic sequences of “Por ti,” the long lines of Inspiración (blemished only by a rare finger slap from Weingartner in the opening bar) and the soothingly naive “Waltz of Dreams” (“Sueño en el Puerto”).
The pair of offerings from Osvaldo Golijov’s St. Mark’s Passion add yet another possibility for combining these three distinct colours. “Eucaristía” is a model of breath and tone control from Weingartner. “Lúa descolorida” has a Mimi-like section of repeated, desperate notes, delivered with deeply personal conviction by Rivera.
Ian Krouse’s Cantar de los Cantares is a multi-layered work that constantly engages the ear and challenges the players. Part I features some jazzy wind, rollicking kisses and the clarinet as dove. The closing introspective moment is memorable. Flashes of passion form much of Part II as the clarinet easily slinks about the garden, the voice finds some compelling darkness and the piano takes us gently away. If only love was always this fulfilling and uncomplicated. JWR