Dallas — Dallas and Fort Worth have a blessing of riches when it comes to musical performance organizations, with multiple world class entires vying for audience in both cities. Many weeks during the season offers a worthy concert on almost every evening and having two or more choices in one day is not all that rare of an occurrence. However, we only have one group dedicated to the art of art song: Voces Intimae (VO-ches EEN-tee-may), which translates variously as intimate or inner voices.
While they have struggled to survive in this difficult financial era, the organization appears to have weathered the fiscal storm and is on the road to recovery. This is mostly to the credit of Karen Moyer, who many remember from her programs for WRR Classical 101.1. She took over as president when Voces Intimae was well on its way to becoming Voces Mortuis. Of course, credit for the extraordinary Code Blue effort also goes to he other members of her board of directors and advisory board, but Moyer is a person that doesn't allow the word “can't” to enter her awareness.
Elizabeth Racheva, a fine singer with a growing national reputation, initially took over as artistic director when the re-invigoration effort started. She left town with her husband, Daniel, when his time as an assistant conductor with the Dallas Symphony ended – a double loss for the area. Another soprano, with a reputation for intelligence attached to a ravishing voice, took over for a couple of seasons. Now, it led by Christian Bester, a young, handsome and impressive baritone who hails from Pretoria, South Africa.
His United Kingdom accent added to the charm of his brief introductory remarks when Voces opened their season on Sunday afternoon at Zion Lutheran Church in Dallas. The program was titled Gypsy Magic and was loosely based on songs related to that exotic group of Eastern Europeans. Soprano Bronwen Forbay, mezzo-soprano Alissa Anderson and pianist Jason Smith were the artists.
Gypsy music is quite common in the classical music canon. Liszt and Brahms wrote Hungarian rhapsodies that are among the most popular piano pieces even written. Orchestral compilations, opera arias and virtuoso instrumental solo pieces by a wide variety of composers are also numerous. There is something about the juxtaposition of sensuality, living on the edge of the law and reveling in wild abandonment that catches the imagination. Bester reminded us of the universal allure of this music by quoting a few lines from songwriter Bob Stone's “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” popularized by pop singer Cher. “My mama used to dance for the money they'd throw / papa would do whatever he could / preach a little gospel / sell a couple bottles of doctor good.”
Alas, there wasn't any Doctor Good available for purchase on Sunday.
Anton Dvořák's Gypsy Songs, Op. 56 fit the concept of the concert perfectly as did the Zigeunerlieder Op. 103 (Gypsy Songs) by Brahms. Tchaikovsky's Lied der Zigeunerin (Song of the Gypsy) from his Twelve Romances and Liszt's overblown Die drei Zigeuner, S. 320 also kept the subject front and center. The other selections were a reach. Darius Milhaud's Six Chansons de Théatre and Gustov Holst's Vedic Hymns were enlisted to fill out the program but had no real relationship to the subject at hand other than that they are exotic in their own right. Also, two arias from operettas by Emmerich Kálmán added some pizazz, even though they violated one of the cardinal rules of an art song group by not being stand-alone songs.
The two singers did a fine job of the widely varied repertoire, even if their approach was on the operatic side. Anderson has a rich mezzo sound with an impressive vocal range. Occasionally, her vibrato is strange but she sings with power and conviction. Here, she took the rule about dramatic restraint in a song recital a little too literally, which minimized the differences in the texts of the songs.
Forbay, a coloratura soprano with a more lyric sound, was at her best in the two operetta arias. She took the opportunity offered by singing music written for the stage to add some dramatic flair. She also sang some impressive high notes that rang the rafters.
The church acoustics are quite live, even displaying an echo, and thus requires a little more restraint on the part of singers with large voices. Diction is always a problem and the live sanctuary only added to that difficulty, making some of the words unintelligible. Fortunately, the texts and translations were printed in the program (although a little larger type face would have been appreciated). Pianist Jason Smith, who is on the faculty at Southern Methodist University's Meadows School of Music, offered sympathetic support for the singers with only an occasional note splat. As with all performances these days, rehearsal time is scarce and surely another run-though or two would have smoothed things out.
Overall, it was a delightful afternoon of singing. Let us all join in with a hearty “Bravo” to Voces Intimae for continuing to present art song in the area.