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In spite of appearing in all of the significant calendars, classical music lovers must have assumed that the June 13 recital by David Heid and Evelyn McCauley at the Unity Church of Peace in Chapel Hill was in a venue that is too offbeat and off the beaten path for it to be worthwhile. They were mistaken; the 15 of us who were there were treated to a delightful, if not perfect evening. Alas, the 7:30 p.m. starting time was also offbeat, and consequently this reviewer arrived for the final strains of the last of the four-song set by Henry Purcell, which a pianist acquaintance also in attendance (who's not fond of Purcell) said was good.
Next up was Schumann's 1840 eight-song cycle to texts of Adalbert von Chamisso, Frauenliebe und -leben, Op. 42. They sit nicely in McCauley's range, and she brought them off very well. At home, after the recital, I listened to recordings by Barbara Bonney, Felicity Lott and Waltraud Meier. McCauley's stood up well to the comparison, her voice qualities and interpretation most closely resembling Lott's, which happens to be my preferred of those three.
After intermission, we heard two contrasting songs by Carl Loewe, "Süsses Begrabnis," Op. 62, No. 4, to a text by Friedrich Rückert, and a setting to a text by Theodor Fontane of an old Scottish ballad "Der Reimer Thomas lag am Bach," Op. 135, both likewise well done. Then came the aria "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's 1851 opera Sappho, followed by two of Ravel's 1914-15 Trois Chansons pour chour mixte (ou voix seule avec piano ): "Trois beaux oiseaux du paradis" and "Nicolette." All of these songs allowed McCauley more freedom to show her dramatic and expressive capabilities than was the case with the Schumann. This continued into the encore, Victor Hely-Hutchinson's 1929 humorous Handel-style parody setting of the nursery rhyme "Old Mother Hubbard."
Diction was good in all languages sung. The performance was slightly marred by a memory lapse in "Trois beaux oiseaux." and unless McCauley's lovely voice hypnotized me into a trance, a verse was skipped in one of the Schumann songs. Performance of the Ravel songs was in reverse order from the compositional one; it would have been nice to hear the complete set, with the third "Ronde" added, in the published order, even though they are not a cycle.
Heid managed the piano very well in matching McCauley's volume and dynamics, and in playing the extensive solo material opening and closing some of the songs, especially in the Schumann cycle. That they work together regularly at St. John's MCC, where Heid is music director and coach of an award-winning gospel choir with which McCauley sings as soloist, shows. The piano here is a 4.5 foot walnut Yamaha that is just right for this space, but that would have sounded better if it were fully in tune - a number of the notes sounded a hair under their true pitches.
The printed program was a clever format, 8.5 x 11 sheets folded vertically for an attractive tall, slender look, with photos and the program on the front and good, succinct artist bios on the back. However, it provided only translations of those songs not in English. None of the poets was credited. There were no opus numbers or composition dates anywhere, and the source of the Gounod aria was not given; it appeared to be a song (mélodie), of which he wrote many.
The artists would do well to find another more mainstream venue to repeat the recital - and redo the printed program for the occasion. I'll be there to hear it again, and on time to hear it all! And then they can put together some other similar recitals....