United States Brooklyn Art Song Society – Schubert IV: Liebe: Lucy Fitz Gibbon (soprano), Blythe Gaissert, Kate Maroney & Devony Smith (mezzo-sopranos), Michael Brofman & Dimitri Dover (piano). Brooklyn Art Song Society, Soapbox Gallery, Brooklyn. Livestream available from 13.2.2021. (RP)
Schubert – ‘Im Frühling’ D.882, ‘Geheimes’ D.719, ‘Nähe des Geliebten’ D.162, ‘Versunken’ D.715, ‘Ganymed’ D.544, ‘Lachen und Weinen’ D.777, ‘Der Jüngling an der Quelle’ D.300, ‘Erster Verlust’ D.226, ‘Ratlose Liebe’ D.138, ‘Frühlingsglaube’ D.686, ‘Der Jüngling auf dem Hügel’ D.702, ‘Nachtviolen’ D.752, ‘Sei mir gegrüßt’ D.741, ‘Viola’ D.786
The Brooklyn Art Song Society explored the many facets of love in its fourth all-Schubert concert of the season. In the fourteen songs performed here, loss features as prominently as bliss, but of course that must be so. Schubert, who never married, experienced both in his short life. His love for a singer named Therese Grob, for whom he wrote some of his early songs, went unrequited, and she married a baker.
In his introduction to the concert, James Sobaskie, an associate professor in the Music Department of Mississippi State University, provided a lens through which to view Schubert’s songs – empathy. It was Schubert’s empathic imagination, as Sobaskie terms it, that permitted him to self-project into a poem, identify with the protagonist and convey that person’s innermost thoughts and emotions through music.
Singers and pianists, however, are the ones who bring these musical vignettes to life, and for this digital offering BASS assembled some of the finest proponents of song able to make their way to Brooklyn during a pandemic. The three mezzo-sopranos – Blythe Gaissert, Kate Maroney and Devony Smith – have strikingly different voices and temperaments, while soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon has a lovely lyric soprano and keen dramatic instincts. Their collaborators were Michael Brofman, the driving force behind BASS, who was excellent as always; and Dimitri Dover, who displayed his exceptional communicative powers as a pianist.
Love and nature, especially spring, are frequently linked in Schubert’s songs, and the two themes course through this program. Devony Smith opened the recital with ‘Im Frühling’, in which she captured the bittersweet emotions of a young man who wishes that he could be a small bird and sing all summerlong of the joys and the pain that love brought him. Smith is an elegant and stately singer, and her dark, burgundy-hued voice hearkened back to an earlier era of classic Lieder singers in all that she sang.
Kate Maroney’s more slender voice was effective in expressing the mercurial emotions of a person in love in ‘Lachen und Weinen’. Dimitri Dover’s introduction to ‘Der Jüngling an der Quelle’ was light, sparkling and dreamlike, creating a cloud of sound upon which Maroney floated as she sang of a lad who sits by the side of a brook to find relief and forget the past. After breathlessly extolling the tumult and rapture of being in love in ‘Ratlose Liebe’, Maroney and Dover again summoned the gentle breezes of spring in ‘Frühlingsglaube’, with its message that change is inevitable.
‘Der Jüngling auf dem Hügel’, the most dramatic of the songs on the program, fell to Blythe Gaissert, who was also accompanied by Dover. The song tells of a youth sitting on a hill surrounded by the beauties of nature as he watches the coffin of the girl he loved be lowered into the ground. There is happiness as well as despair depicted in the song, which ends with the boy filled with hope upon seeing the stars come out at night.
As in ‘Der Jüngling an der Quelle’, Dover’s brilliant playing of the lighter passages made its emotional contrasts exceptionally vivid, but he couldn’t go it alone, and Gaissert’s commanding voice and dramatic intensity were essential elements in the mix.
In love, as in nature, exuberance can result in tragedy, and that was the fate of an early spring flower in the last song of the program. In ‘Viola’, a rambunctious Dame’s Rocket (a noxious weed in much of the US) is encouraged by the appearance of snowdrops and dares to bloom, only to have her petals freeze and turn brown when the winter returns. Just as the snowdrops, which in German are Schneeglöcklein or snowbells, rang to herald the approach of spring, they now toll in her memory.
The bells rang joyous and clear with Brofman at the piano. Lucy Fitz Gibbon’s silvery soprano had the delicacy, as well as depth, for this tale of a little flower eager for spring, as are so many of us.
To view, Schubert IV: Liebe click here.