There was a sizable turnout at UNC's Hill Hall on the evening of February 19 for the recital by soprano Elizabeth Linnartz, a Raleigh native currently preparing a DMA in vocal performance at UNCG, who gave a very varied program of art songs. Each half had a different accompanist and featured different types of music and different languages.
Harpist Anita Burroughs-Price most ably accompanied the first three cycles, Maurice Ravel's Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques, John Lambert's A Song Cycle on the Birth of Jesus , and Philip Cannon's Cinq Chansons de Femme. We are indeed fortunate to have a harpist of this caliber in our midst. While the opening cycle is familiar, the other two are virtually unknown. Linnartz performed the Ravel from memory and varied her posture, stance, gestures and facial expression in a manner that suited the texts well, although only translations and not the original language texts were provided. This reviewer always wonders what value these add in the absence of the text being sung: if both can't be provided, there's not much point in providing a translation, so a summary would do just as well. He also wonders what the explanation or motivation is for not providing original texts. The remaining two cycles were sung from scores on a music stand, a format that allowed the singer to continue to use appropriate interpretive postures and gestures much better than holding the score possibly can.
The Lambert cycle sets English texts (originals provided) that the program notes, generally good concerning the composers and the works, described as medieval, but they are in truth mostly Renaissance. The cycle is particularly well structured, with a prologue (sung a cappella) and an epilogue (whose text is simply the Ave Maria) surrounding four songs: "O Sweetest Night!" "Shepherd, shepherd, hark that calling," "Upon my lap my sovereign sits," and "A Maid peerless." The third song is the textual, musical and emotional center of the set. It has an especially lovely nursing image as well as other textual felicities and a delightful lullaby melody in the refrain, "Sing lullaby, my little Boy. Sing lullaby, my life's Joy." The music, the most modern of the evening, contains interesting textures and harmonies. The quasi-mystical set is beautiful and was so well sung by Linnartz, who created such a mood of devotion and sanctity, that, at its conclusion, it almost seemed inappropriate to applaud; indeed, the audience remained totally silent for a spell before clapping enthusiastically. This was the best-realized set of the entire evening, creating a perhaps too-early peak, but that is not to say the others were not well done.
Linnartz loosened up most with her stances and gestures in the Cannon cycle, which does set medieval French texts, mostly anonymous, but one is a seemingly modified version of a famous poem by Christine de Pisan on her widowhood, "Seulete suy." The song titles, however, are not the titles or first lines of the poems but rather the types of women: "La Mal mariée," "L'Amoureuse," "La Veuve" (the Christine de Pisan poem), "La Bien aimée," and "La Bien mariée." This, very well sung and interpreted, was the most humorous set of the evening. Here, as with the Lambert, the modern music suits the much older texts extremely well. These two cycles have apparently never been recorded. Linnartz has just announced a CD of Rutter's Magnificat in which she is soloist. She should consider recording these cycles with her accompanist of the evening!
Pianist David Heid was the accompanist for the second half of the program that featured two sets of chestnuts familiar to art song aficionados, performed from memory. The printed program, however, did not provide opus numbers for the songs chosen, and the order was wrong, although correct in the accompanying texts, in the second set. Four Lieder by Brahms--"Mädchenlied," "Von ewiger Liebe," "Meine Lieder" and "Botschaft"--were followed by five Swedish songs by Sibelius--"Norden," "Den första kyssen," "Demanten på marssnön," "Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings mote" and "Svarta rosor." The program notes said that "Sibelius' songs are rarely performed, but only because few singers tackle the Swedish and Finnish languages." Thankfully Linnartz was bold enough to do so; they are lovely, and she gave good interpretive renditions of them, as she did with the Brahms. Barbara Bonney's CD of Scandinavian songs, Diamonds in the Snow, the Gramophone Recital Award Winner in 2000, has two of these on it, and Solveig Kringelborn's CD Black Roses has two, including one of those that Bonney sings. Although the piano was set at a tail-in angle, it all too often covered the voice from where I was sitting, but this may be a function of the eccentric acoustics of the hall.
The program concluded in the same vein as did the first half with the humorous, cabaret-like song, "Another New Voice Teacher," (no text provided) by Andrew Thomas, which was as well rendered as the Cannon cycle.
Linnartz' diction was excellent throughout, in all of the languages. Her voice is not a big one, but she used it well in this repertoire, giving truly lovely renditions of virtually all of the works chosen for this wonderfully built program. Whether due to a slight indisposition or to nervous tension, however, she repeatedly seemed to be straining to reach final high notes and was unable to sustain them. She also had a major glitch on the opening high note in the first song of the Sibelius set. These marred slightly what was otherwise a delightful performance and evening that would also have been improved with a bit more attention to details in the printed program and accompanying notes and texts.