German soprano Lydia Teuscher and pianist Graham Johnson delivered a Valentine of a lecture-recital, and the Kennedy Center audience loved it January 26.
Teuscher and Johnson began and ended with songs of lovers’ abandonment, framing the rich program’s full spectrum of love.
They ranged from flirtatious “Cupid” (Haydn); to “Laughter and tears” (Schubert) — “o my heart!”; to reverent in Schubert’s “Ave Maria”; and melancholy in “Sun of the Sleepless” — both Mendelssohn’s and Schumann’s songs to Lord Byron’s poem.
The soprano’s vocal and dramatic range effortlessly met the challenges. She was at her most compelling as Ophelia, exquisitely rendering Strauss’ “Three songs of Ophelia”, surpassed only by the encore of Mendelssohn’s song “Ophelia”, a haunting impression of Hamlet’s spurned lover floating along the water as she dies.
Teuscher’s voice is as lovely and luminescent, comparable to “dancing sunbeams” in Haydn’s “The Mermaid’s Song”, and “silvery rushing of water” in Richard Strauss’ “Waterlily” to quote two offerings in the recital.
Master accompanist Johnson introduced the program with comments about English literature’s “enormous power over the German imagination.”
Schubert was “influenced above all by Sir Walter Scott.” Schubert’s “Ave Maria” is the better known title for one “Ellen’s Song”, based on Scott’s epic poem “The Lady of the Lake”. Another “Ellen’s Song” was also performed at the concert, as was “Annot Lyle’s Song” from the same poem, and also “Serenade”, which Shubert based on Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”.
And Schubert was “hooked” on James Fenimore Cooper, somewhat like we’re hooked today on “Downton Abbey”, said Johnson, whose three-volume book on Schubert will be published by Yale University Press next year.
Schubert especially loved the Natty Bumppo “Leatherstocking Tales” series of novels. Cooper’s American folk stories added “comfort to Schubert’s dying days,” Johnson noted.
One audience member whispered, “Cooper’s so terrible in English, I can only imagine him in German.”
Johnson mentioned that the English “patronized” Schubert. One reviewer of the time wrote that a “more overrated composer never existed” and some of Schubert’s music was “horrible.”
Strauss composed works based on Wilde, and Tennyson, as well as Shakespeare, Johnson continued in his ever-illuminating introductions.
Haydn’s visit to Britain in the late 1790s was “a gold mine” of inspiration. His song to Shakespeare’s “She never told her love” from “Twelfth Night” was one of the most moving in the program, with Teuscher’s voice portraying its concluding line, “Smiling at grief.”
Mendelssohn’s “The beloved writes” comes from Goethe who knew English well and was inspired by English poets. The yearning song concludes with “Give me a sign!” The audience gave them many hearty signs, bringing them back for two encores.
Just after Valentine’s Day, February 15, Vocal Arts DC’s next presentation is Austrian baritone Florian Boesch, accompanied by pianist Roger Vignoles, performing more Schumann and Schubert art songs. But not quite as romantic as this program.
For more info: Vocal Arts DC, email@example.com, 202-669-1463. Lydia Teuscher. Graham Johnson. Florian Boesch recital February 15, 7:30 PM, Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, 202-467-4600, or click here.