For a concert-goer, the past few weeks seemed like whitewater rafting. The river of music flowed ceaselessly, picking up momentum as it went along, its eddies and rapids succeeding one another so relentlessly that they allowed little time for recharging in between. Some anticipated moments provided memorable thrills when they arrived, some proved to be duds, and most fell somewhere in between. We can’t discuss them all in these columns, but a number of them call out for special comment.
The Santa Fe Concert Association’s “Festival of Song” series provided a recital forum for two tenors who are appearing at Santa Fe Opera this summer: Paul Appleby on Aug. 11, Michael Fabiano on Aug. 14. Both hourlong events took place at the Scottish Rite Center and were accompanied adroitly by Joseph Illick, but apart from that, they stood about 180 degrees from each other. Appleby has a voice of modest dimensions, and that proved a detriment to fulfilling his duties as Fritz in La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein; throughout the season, many listeners told me that they had trouble hearing him, which was my own experience on opening night. In the more intimate expanse of the Scottish Rite Center, and assisted by a piano rather than an orchestra, he projected just fine. He put together an interesting song recital that consisted entirely of serenades, but he selected his material thoughtfully to avoid what easily might have become a succession of sameness. He was strongest in his opening set (lieder by Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, and Strauss) and his closing piece (Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings). His voice is very easy to love. A few minutes into the German set, his timbre briefly approximated the dense, veiled sweetness of Fritz Wunderlich, and there can be no higher compliment that than. He might want to refine his phonetics on certain occurrences of the German “ch,” which here was rendered with a whooshing “sh” sound no matter where it fell, but his technical apparatus sets him up to truly excel as a lieder singer. He sang sensitively in English, too. Britten’s cycle is an odd piece, a through-composed cycle of six poems by various authors plus a prologue and epilogue that spotlight the solo horn. Britten composed the piece in 1943 for the renowned but short-lived hornist Dennis Brain, and he specified that in the prologue and epilogue that hornist was to play only on the instrument’s natural partials; the resultant microtones yield a rustic flavor. In this performance, hornist Gabriella Finck went a step further, actually playing those sections on a natural horn — basically a coiled tube with a mouthpiece on the end — and then switching to a concert French horn for elegant renditions of the other portions. (Violinists Richard Rood and L.P. How, violist Alexandra Leem, cellist Joseph Johnson, and double bassist Miles Davis all contributed admirably, under Illick’s direction.)