Romance — in all its complicated, maddening, I'm Just Another Salad On The Highway of Love glory — took center stage Friday night with soprano Deborah Voigt at the Folly Theater.
Voigt's two-part recital opened this season's Harriman-Jewell Great Masters series. In both parts, listeners experienced Voigt's near-total control of a big, rich stage presence and a big, rich voice.
That voice filled the room when the music was loud, articulated perfectly to the far balcony when it was soft, and even sounded beautiful in mezzo range.
The first part was an orthodox concert performance of songs by Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss and the American composer Amy Beach.
Beach's three songs set to Robert Browning were a gem, and a reminder that credible American musical high culture extends back to the 19th century.
Voigt won the gold medal at the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow with the two Tchaikovsky songs she sang Friday night. Her articulation was so precise that one could follow the Russian text, rendered in the program in Latin alphabet, with no trouble.
She sang five songs by Richard Strauss including "Schlechtes Wetter," a charming piece of program music set to a Heinrich Heine poem. When a musician like Voigt performs Strauss' songs, it only strengthens the impression that his songs will be Straus’s long-term legacy.
We heard Voigt the artist give a formal recital in a formal gown before the intermission. Voigt the person and musician sang in a comfortable and even intimate setting after. It felt like when musicians relax and make music with their friends after hours.
She sang 13 songs by Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom and Benjamin Moore. We heard Bernstein's "Somewhere" from West Side Story and music he wrote with the husband and wife Broadway songwriting duo Adolph Comden and Betty Green.
William Bolcom has written piano music across the spectrum, but he seems to have a soft spot for easygoing, faintly nostalgic ragtime. Voigt sang three of these, all set to Arnold Weinstein's deliciously bitchy lyrics.
Moore was the evening's revelation. The melodies in his four songs, and their retro flavor, sat beautifully on the words of James Joyce, Elizabeth Bishop and the Elizabethan Robert Herrick. Besides her other musicianly virtues, Voigt has excellent taste.
Voigt really seemed most at home with all this big-city music. She sang it with passion, commitment and consummate technical skill.
She enjoyed it, and so did Friday night's audience.