Michelle DeYoung illuminates a wide range of lieder at Collaborative Arts Festival

Sat Sep 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm

By Michael Cameron

Michelle DeYoung. Photo: Christian Steiner
Michelle DeYoung performed a solo recital Friday night at the Washington Library for the Collaborative Arts Festival. Photo: Christian Steiner

As music lovers count the days until the opening of the Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony seasons this month, the Collaborative Works Festival has stepped in with three engrossing programs of art songs. Friday night mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and pianist Kevin Murphy gave compelling, probing accounts of works by Brahms, Schumann, Elgar, Falla, and Marx at the Pritzker Auditorium in the Harold Washington library.

Last year CAIC stepped away from standard repertoire with a look at the under-appreciated songs of Britten. This weekend the focus shifted to the core of standard Germanic repertoire with works of Clara and Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Only a third of the music in this program came from the pen of these three composers, but the artistry of the duo easily overshadowed any misgivings about thematic inconsistencies.

DeYoung and Murphy plucked three songs from three different opuses of Johannes Brahms to open the recital. “Von ewiger Liebe” (Of eternal love) enfolded with a natural arc, with DeYoung bringing a touching intimacy and dusky chest tone to the opening references to night and silence. “Meine Liebe ist grün” (My love is as green) was brief but powerful, a full-throated celebration of ecstatic young love.

Next up were four selections from Schumann’s Lieder ind Gesange aux den ‘Wilhelm Meister von Goethe.” There are few better examples of the fusion of great poetry and music than these masterpieces, and the duo left no stone unturned mining them for dramatic effect. Murphy matched the singer note-for-note in subtle dynamic and tempo modulations, most notably in “So last niche mich scheinen” (So let me seem). Their account was an outburst of turmoil, DeYoung’s radiant upper register conjuring a woman torn between fantasy and reality.

Manuel de Falla’s Siete Canciones Populares were dispatched with surprising depth and nuance and depth considering the usual flippant interpretations these songs often receive.

A concert grand can’t duplicate the exquisite orchestration Elgar employs in his Sea Pictures from 1899, but Kevin Murphy’s delicate touch coaxed a myriad of colors from the keyboard. When the accompanying final chords move unexpectedly to the minor mode after the vocal line ended, de Young responded with a subtle downturn in expression, signaling impending agitation. Their reading of “The Swimmer” brimmed with restless energy, the mezzo’s opulent voice filling the hall effortlessly.

The two final songs were from the pen of Joseph Marx, a composer relatively unknown to all except connoisseurs of the art song repertoire. Virtuosic flourishes were dispatched with the requisite panache, but the musical substance seemed unremarkable in the company of the surrounding works.

The final program of the Collaborative Arts Festival takes place 2 p.m. Sunday at the Logan Center in Hyde Park. Susanna Phillips, Kelley O’Connor, Nicholas Phan, and Joshua Hopkins will perform  Schumann’s Spanische Liebeslieder and Brahms’ Liebeslieder Walzer. caichicago.org

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