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Elizabeth Byrum Linnartz, soprano, and pianist Deborah Lee Hollis teamed up for a recital tagged "Songs in the Night" in the Nelson Music Room on Duke's East campus. Both are highly regarded in the Triangle and beyond, and they have collaborated previously, including performing in doctoral recitals for each other's degrees.
The program opened with a medley of six songs from Alec Wilder's collection Lullabies and Night Songs: "The Golux's Song," "Seal Lullaby," "The Elephant Present," "Douglas Mountain," "Fais Dodo, Colin," "The night will never stay." Wilder's settings are mostly straight-forward and uncomplicated. The singing was as natural as breathing; one could picture the mother singing to her children to calm them or to delight them. The accompanying piano was supportive and complimentary. It was an ideal way to draw the audience into the mood of the evening.
Two Baroque selections followed: Handel's "O sleep, why dost thou leave me," an elegant aria from Semele grieving not only the loss of sleep, but also the loss of hope for a dream of lost happiness. Purcell's "Evening Hymn," on the other hand, is a thanksgiving for the awareness of the sweet security of the soul that rests in God while the body is restored in sleep. Linnartz's rendition was warm and controlled with Hollis' sure and steady accompaniment.
At the center of the program was "Knoxville: Summer of 1915," Samuel Barber's powerful setting of an evocative passage from James Agee's masterpiece, A Death in the Family. It is quite certain that no one in the audience was around in 1915, but it is almost equally certain that most of those in the audience were drawn into the emotional experience so vividly displayed in this work. It is challenging for both soloist and accompanist, and both delivered with artistic excellence.
"Nacht und Träume," one of Schubert's exquisite art-songs was a sparkling gem performed with perfect sensitivity to the blending of a beautiful melody with a sweetly sensitive accompaniment.
"La maha y el ruiseñior" (The Girl and the Nightingale) by Enrique Granados is from his opera Goyescas, the music of which is largely taken from his piano suite of the same name. This line of the song, "Love is like a flower at the mercy of the sea" foreshadows Granados' own tragic love story: homeward bound after a White House recital for Woodrow Wilson in 1916, his ship was torpedoed in the English Channel. Although his part of the ship remained afloat, he saw his wife struggling in the water and jumped in to save her. They both drowned. The song ends with "Love! There is no song without love!" Needless to say the performance was emotionally driven. The piece resembles a nocturne, but is filled with intricate figurations, inner voices and, near the end, glittering bird-like trills in the accompaniment.
The very popular "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák was a hit with the audience. It was sung with all the longing of Rusalka pleading with the moon to tell her beloved of her yearning for him.
The last two songs were both waltzes by French composers; one describing the intimacies between lovers in the night when the two at last become one, and the other, in a sadder vein, describing love that is over and gone. "Jet e veux" (I want you) by Eric Satie and "Les Chemins de l'amour" (The Paths of Love) by Francis Poulenc provided a charming and intimate conclusion to a delightful and well-planned evening. Linnartz' sweet timbre was ideally suited to these last two songs and Hollis' accompaniments were liltingly charming.
These free recitals at Nelson are a great gift to the community and a marvelous link to the remarkable talents of faculty and students as well. The performing arts enrich us all, often in ways we least expect. Thanks to all.