Pair successfully wrap up library series

By Ben Nyberg

The KSU Library’s chamber music series April 19 concert featuring Chris Thompson, baritone, and Steven Spooner, piano, brought the 2012-2013 season to a successful close.

Supposing I were planning an evening of classical art songs, what big-name composers would likely be on my list? Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss; Berlioz, Faure, Debussy; Grieg, Sibelius; Dowland, Vaughan WIlliams, Britten; Ives, Rorem.

O.K., if you were there in the Hemisphere Room Friday night, you’ve already jumped to my point. Our program included none of the above. Not that we lacked for important composers, just that the ones we did get aren’t known in the main for being names that spring to mind as art song writers: Purcell, Beethoven, Liszt, Ravel, Mohammed Fairouz, WIlliam Bolcom.

But what’s most impressive about the unlikely menu is that its combination of works, presented as it was in chronological sequence, not only yields a remarkably satisfying mix of styles, moods, and appeals but carries as well an implicit historical-developmental timeline in its succession of works.

As for our soloists, Thompson and Spooner’s collaboration has certainly lost none of its sure-footed solidarity since we heard them in Schubert’s Die Winterreise back in January of 2010. It is clearly a partnership of long-practiced trust and mutual respect.

Thompson is a baritone whose vocal timbre seems to ask for qualifiers, such as “high,” “dramatic,” “lyric.” It is also notably “bright,” far forward in the “mask,” and so exceptionally resonant, a voice that projects powerfully even in pianissimo. Coupled with his meticulous articulation it enables him to deliver a precisely sculpted and colored tone capable of reflecting the music’s every requirement.

Though his role may be more supportive than soloistic, pianist Spooner’s contribution to the duo’s combined effect simply could not be more artistically judged and measured. He is the ideal chamber musician, invariably delivering exactly the right enabling touch, however delicate or thunderous.

Given the variety of works presented, and the well-considered execution of each, it’s hard to make comparative judgments of their relative effectiveness. What mattered was less the absolute musical worth of a given piece than the quality of artistry invested in it. What most struck me about both of these dedicated artists was the conscientious attention and passionate energy they invested in extracting the full value of each measure of every piece they addressed.

Still, I suppose the combination of inherent and interpretive worth does make certain works stand somewhat above others. The lengthy “love letter” of Beethoven’s groundbreaking cycle An die ferne Geliebte was a moving chronicle of passionate hope.  Purcell’s soulful, intense spiritual exploration Lord, what is man, complete with its final hallelujahs, opened the program on a high note. The Ravel set was, as always, a great pleasure, the tipsy-making drinking song especially engaging. And Mohammed Fairouz’s oddly seductive Posh was strange enough to intrigue without turning too opaque to follow.

All told, so fine a program, we have to hope they’ll be back, maybe with some Schubert next time?

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