A substitute singer saves the day for slenderized Mahler at Winter Chamber Festival

Mon Jan 22, 2018 at 10:00 pm

By Gerald Fisher

Baritone Hugh Russell performed Mahler's "Rückert-Lieder" at the Winter Chamber Music Festival Sunday night in Evanston.
Baritone Hugh Russell performed Mahler’s “Rückert-Lieder” at the Winter Chamber Music Festival Sunday night in Evanston.

It’s a dream for many a performing artist: step into the starring role at the last minute and turn potential disaster into triumph.

A version of this fantasy played out at Sunday evening’s installment of the 2018 Winter Chamber Music Festival at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston.

Filling in for the indisposed baritone Edward Parks, Canadian vocalist Hugh Russell stepped up with a wonderful performance of Gustav Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder song cycle.

The poems of Friedrich Rückert were deeply loved by Mahler and he put some of his most emotionally committed settings to them. The five songs comprising Rückert-Lieder were presented in a recent chamber arrangement by conductor Daniel Grossman.

Russell, for his part, gave a moving and insightful reading (texts for the audience would have been nice), and his vocal quality improved as the performance progressed, with a rich luster suffusing the final setting.

The ensemble performed Sunday in an exquisite, intelligent balancing with their soloist, making the most of the many solos and duets among the winds and strings.

This work and the rest of the program — Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, arranged by Anton Webern, and Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115 — also sounded full and crisp in the acoustic environs of Pick-Staiger.

The Winter Chamber Music Festival continues 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pick-Staiger Hall with the Dover Quartet performing music of Schoenberg, Mozart and Zemlinsky. http://events.music.northwestern.edu/tags/winter-chamber-music-festival

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