CASTLETON, Va., July 23, 2012 – Last Saturday evening, the Washington Nationals were home in the Nation’s Capital hosting a double-header at their riverfront stadium. Meanwhile, out in the Virginia countryside, the Castleton Festival also boasted its own version of a double-header, held in the venue’s more intimate original building, the Theatre House.
Saturday afternoon at 3, the audience enjoyed a song or “lieder” program highlighting the individual voices of the young singers involved in the Castleton Artists Training Seminar, aka “CATS.” Later in the evening, the Festival hosted a remarkable recital by well-known violinist Jennifer Koh, featuring works composed by J.S. Bach for unaccompanied violin.
The afternoon stanza of this classical two-bagger was a delight, as a small army of highly talented opera stars of tomorrow got a chance to strut their vocal stuff. It was a substantial, long program, but things ran briskly due to the Festival’s nifty idea of presenting the singers in 3-5 member groups and asking the audience to hold its applause until each group’s set was finished.
Songs ran the gamut from Mozart, to Schubert lieder staples, to African-American spirituals.
All the young singers acquitted themselves quite well. In the recital’s first half, highlights included soprano Liana Guberman’s rendition of Richard Strauss’ “Frühling” (“Spring”); baritone Andrew Manea’s romantic interpretation of Hugo Wolf’s “Verborgenheit” (roughly, “Seclusion”); tenor Oswaldo Iraheta’s clear and measured interpretation of Francesco Paolo Tosti’s “Ideale;” soprano Jane Pappas skilled delivery of a pair of Debussy songs, “Green,” and “Il Pleure dans mon Coeur” (“There’s weeping in my heart”); and soprano Melissa Chavez’ imaginative, almost graphic interpretation of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Il settimo bicchiere di vino” (“The seventh glass of wine.”)
The program’s first half concluded with another pair of clever, offbeat French songs, the “Danse Macabre” (literally, “Macabre Danse”) by Camille Saint-Saëns, and “Le Bestiare” (“The bestiary”) by Francis Poulenc, enthusiastically sung by baritones Ian Martin and Conor McDonald respectively.
Highlights of the recital’s second half included two songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff, “How fair this spot” and “Spring Waters,” robustly and passionately delivered by soprano Jing Zhang; an outstanding interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous “Nur wer die Sehnsucht Kennt” (“Only one who knows longing”) by baritone Andrew Manea; a moving rendition of a rarely heard Ned Rorem song, “The Youth with the Red-Gold Hair,” sung by soprano Sarah Thomas; a moving, authentic vocal interpretation of Thomas Moore’s traditional Irish song, “The Last Rose of Summer;” and a marvelous selection of African-American spirituals delivered with great feeling by mezzo-soprano Michelle Vance and bass-baritone Davone Tines. Tines’ interpretation of “Were you there?” was perhaps the most deeply moving performance of this familiar old spiritual that this reviewer can recall hearing.
Other highlights of this recital’s strong second half included soprano Katrina Galka’s wondrously light, scampering, and skilled rendition of Georges Bizet’s challenging “Tarantelle;” baritone Elliot Matheny’s skillful storytelling as he both sang and acted Ravel’s “Don Quichotte á Dulcinée;” Davone Tines’ equally skilled acting and singing of Michael Schacter’s enigmatic “Pierrot;” and soprano Rachel Bruce’s bright and gutsy vocal joust with Elliott Carter’s spiky and difficult “Under the Dome.”
In addition to so many delightful vocal performances, young CATS pianists Zalman Kelber, Jayhe Kim, and José Meléndez deserve a special hat tip for accompanying each singer sensitively and well, scampering through many a difficult accompaniment with modesty and aplomb.
Rating: ** 1/2 (Two and one-half stars.)
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