United States Schubert, Die schöne Müllerin: Thomas Meglioranza (baritone), Reiko Uchida (piano), Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 18.3.2018 (BJ)
As Sir Donald Tovey argued in his provocative essay on normality and freedom in music, the former quality is more important than the latter, and it is indeed a necessary prerequisite if freedom is to have any meaning. This Philadelphia Chamber Music Society presentation of Die schöne Müllerin offered a good deal of meaning, thanks to the young American baritone Thomas Meglioranza. His well-judged flights of imagination and nuance descended directly from the vital and unimpeachably normal musico-literary tradition that Schubert himself was largely responsible for creating, as distinct from the more idiosyncratic and obtrusive freedom that a composer like Hugo Wolf thrusts in the listener’s face.
In addition to a baritone voice of notable warmth and the technical ability to float a line of admirable clarity, Meglioranza possesses an unusually vivid feeling for the sound and meaning of a poetic text. With one tiny exception—the very occasional tendency, in words like “Morgen,” of an American-sounding “r” to compromise the otherwise impeccably Austro-German sound-scape the singer was painting—his diction was at once precise, authentic, and richly expressive.
There was a welcome sense also of flexible interplay between Meglioranza and pianist Reiko Uchida, both of whom seemed able to adjust their rhythm and phrasing instantly at the drop of their partner’s hat. If I were to offer just one general suggestion for a way to make their already compelling interpretation still more effective, it would be for a slight downward adjustment in the dynamic level of both singing and playing. It may be that the singer, in particular, had not had sufficient opportunity to evaluate the acoustics of the excellent Benjamin Franklin Hall, and it could be felt that he was projecting a wealth of tone better suited to a considerably more spacious venue.