Mainly Mozart Festival opens with Viennese songs

By Lawrence Budmen

Mezzo-soprano Misty Bermudez was among the singers who performed Sunday at the opening concert of the Mainly Mozart Festival at the Coral Gables Museum.

The Mainly Mozart Festival opened its annual spring season on Sunday afternoon with “A Journey Through Viennese Art Song,” traversing excerpts from the lieder of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler and Hugo Wolf and a complete performance of Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op.52.

In many ways, the concert marked a new beginning for the festival. British conductor James Judd is the series’ new artistic director and the Coral Gables Museum is the new venue for the performances,  a joint presentation of Judd’s Miami Music Project and the museum. University of Miami musicologist Frank Cooper remains the series’ host.

Certainly the new venue is a plus. For nearly two decades the festival has been mired in the dead acoustic of a meeting room at the Colonnade Hotel. By contrast, the large gallery space at the museum is very live and resonant. In this program of art song, the voices carried beautifully without loss of presence or tonal bloom. The keyboard accompanists took some time to adjust to the room’s bright sound but the balance in the Brahms waltzes was nearly perfect. Future concerts will reveal how the setting works for instrumental music.

Vocal music has been absent from the festival’s offerings for too long. This generous program of songs from 19th century Vienna was intelligently chosen, well rehearsed and performed with artistic integrity.

Tony Boutte’s refined, Mozartean lyric tenor ran the gamut of emotions in six songs from Die Schone Mullerin, Schubert’s song cycle of unrequited love. Boutte was particularly effective in capturing the folksy spirit of Die Wandern (Wandering) and the flight from hope to possible heartbreak in Der Neugierige (Curiosity). Geoffrey Loff was a lithe and poetic keyboard partner.

Mahler’s dark, moody settings of three poems by Friedrich Ruckert showcased the impressive mezzo-soprano of Misty Bermudez, a member of Seraphic Fire. The power and richness of Bermudez’s singing captured the drama and poignancy of these Mahler gems. Her darkened tone and emotive weight turned the death knell of Um Mitternacht (At Midnight) into a tragic mini-drama. From rippling figurations to romantic strophes of pianistic angst, Loff was a supportive partner.

The radiant, light soprano of Susan Williams suited the alternately playful and love-weary voice of four Morike-Lieder by Hugo Wolf, nimbly accompanied by Jeffrey Brown. Williams brought lightness to Wolf’s elf tales and wistful sadness to the songs of lost love.

Dean Southern is best known in Miami for directed some engaging productions at the University of Miami’s Frost Opera Theater but he is also an impressive singer. Deploying a baritone of honeyed lightness, Southern distilled the romance, wit and whimsy of songs by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven that extol the mythical, seductive Chloe. His artful version of Beethoven’s impassioned Adelaide eschewed weighty exaggeration for songful ardor.

The  Liebeslieder Walzer (Love-Song Waltzes) are a delightful brew of romantic yearning and the élan of the Viennese waltz kings in a distinctively Brahmsian voice. With Loff and Brown assaying the four-hand piano writing with verve, the four vocalists blended felicitously, their voices dulcet and suave.  Bermudez’s deep lower register shone resplendently in the sadness of Wohl schon bewandt (How happy once), Brahms’ masterful mix of emotional tumult and three-quarter time. The languor, lilt and vivacity of these enchanting pieces were strongly accentuated.

The Mainly Mozart Festival continues May 6 with the Sona String Quartet playing works by Mahler, Mozart and Shostakovich with pianist Tao Lin. The performance is 4:30 p.m. at the Coral Gables Museum 786-468-2251

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Mon Apr 30, 2012
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