United States Various, ‘Serenading the Hours: A Day to Night Recital’: Lindsay Kate Brown (mezzo-soprano), Alex Munger (piano). The George & Nora London Foundation for Singers, Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 22.10.2023. (RP)
Tchaikovsky – ‘Autumn’; ‘If Only I Had Known Better’; ‘None but the Lonely Heart’
Jennifer Higdon – ‘Morning opens’; ‘Breaking’; ‘Falling’
Alma Mahler – ‘Ansturm’; ‘Bei dir ist es traut’; ‘Erntelied’
Marx – ‘Nocturne’; ‘Erinnerung’; ‘Nachtgebet’
Barber – ‘O Boundless, Boundless Evening’; ‘Nocturne’; ‘Sure on this Shining Night’
Berg – ‘Nacht’; ‘Schilflied’, ‘Die Nachtigall’, ‘Im Zimmer’, ‘Sommertage’ (from Sieben frühe Lieder)
Lindsay Kate Brown returned to the Morgan Library and Museum in a recital with pianist Alex Munger entitled ‘Serenading the Hours: A Day to Night Recital’, under the auspices of The George and Nora London Foundation. The mezzo-soprano from Waterloo, New York, last sang there in 2020, when she received the coveted George London Award in the Foundation’s annual competition. Since then, Brown has begun to make her presence felt in the world of opera, chiefly as a singer but also as a conductor.
The songs that Brown and Munger performed were romantic in all senses of the word. There were occasional grand outbursts of emotion, but mostly Brown chose songs that required a subtle palette of vocal color and dynamics to express their moods and sentiments. It was a venture that suited Brown and her expansive, expressive voice to a tee.
She sang songs by true Romantics like Tchaikovsky and Joseph Marx, but also ones by composers such as Alban Berg and Samuel Barber who espoused the style when it was not the fashion of the day. Few of the songs are mainstays of the current repertoire, but those by Tchaikovsky and Alban Berg would be the leading contenders in that regard.
There were works by two women composers, who were born roughly a century apart. Only 17 of Alma Mahler’s 50 or so songs survive. Jennifer Higdon is recognized as one of the most performed living composers of today, and her songs reflect her eclectic style which is influenced by pop and folk with a nod to the avant-garde via George Crumb. They nonetheless fit seamlessly into the musical and emotional fabric of the recital.
The sweet spots came in the Marx and Barber songs – there was something in her interpretation of these works that set them apart. Marx’s ‘Erinnerung’ and Barber’s ‘O Boundless, Boundless Evening’ were perhaps the finest examples of Brown as an artist. In them, the complex textures of her voice as well as its beauty were on full display.
Brown’s mezzo-soprano tilts toward the dramatic with a personality to match, or so it would seem. Outbursts of ecstasy in songs such as Higdon’s ‘Falling’ and Berg’s ‘Die Nachtigall’ were truly glorious. It was not all high drama, however, as Brown’s voice was just as lovely when she sang of more delicate emotions.
The lightness of Brown’s vocal touch combined with an air of coquettishness made Mahler’s ‘Bei dir ist es traut’ particularly charming. To the accompaniment of swirling, sensual streams of arpeggios from Munger on the piano, Brown summoned the all-consuming surges of desire depicted by Mahler in ’Ansturm’. Attempts to float softer high notes in Mahler’s ‘Erntelied’ and Marx’s ‘Nachtgebet’ were less successful, but one had to applaud the artistic impulse that made her go in that direction.
Brown heaped praise upon Munger, whom she has known from her earliest days at university, and described their time together passing like ‘one hot minute’. Such a long friendship and artistic partnership yielded great dividends. Munger brought depth and cascades of color to each song, which were perfectly calibrated to those expressed by Brown. His playing in Barber’s ‘Sure on this Shining Night’ was particularly memorable.