Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Brilliant Recital: Rene Pape at the Metropolitan Opera House

The great German Bass Rene Pape and pianist Camillo Radicke presented a splendid recital this afternoon (Sunday, 24 September 2014) at the Metropolitan Opera House. I listened live courtesy of Metropolitan Opera Radio on Sirius Radio, and do hope to hear from those lucky enough to attend in person. For this recital Herr Pape programmed a marvelous program of songs by Beethoven, Dvorak, Quilter and Mussorgsky.

Beethoven's Six Songs after Poetry by Gellert (Op. 48) began the program on a very intimate, spiritual level, with Pape's amazing German enunciation, clean and unaffected, as though recited by an actor of amazing skill (which, of course he is). Prayerful, joyful and filled with contemplation on the nature of man and God, Beethoven captures the essence of each of the selected "Spiritual Odes" beautifully, most notably in the longest (and final) of the songs, with its "theme and variations" style accompaniment (at times sounding like a Bach chorale prelude) with the singer weaving the melody throughout.

Pape was in beautiful voice, and the level of expression in Dvorak's more complex Biblical Songs (Op. 99) was like wandering on a personal, spiritual journey. The songs cover such a wide variety of emotion, but not in the typical Dvorakian manner, rather more sparse, raw and honest. Here, the partnership between Messrs. Pape and Radicke revealed itself even stronger in this, the longest set of the recital.

Following intermission came three Shakespearean songs by Roger Quilter. Pape's English, so perfectly, crisply enunciated was betrayed only occasionally by the hint of his accent which added an extra bit of charm. The songs, all three gorgeous, would have flowed a bit
nicer, if, DURING the postlude of the first, ("Come Away Death") some over-exuberant fan began applauding. Not being there, I'm uncertain what happened next, but guessing from the audience's laughter the singer made some sort of gesture or facial expression to this person, provoking the audience into mass laughter.

The final set was Mussorgsky's powerful Songs and Dances of Death, and here the Rene Pape the recitalist became an Rene Pape the opera singer, imbuing the music with a powerful, masterful interpretation of the text wed completely to music which was masterful, beautiful and, when appropriate, bone chilling. Both singer and pianist emphasized the dance-like elements of Mussorgsky's songs and even only listening over Sirius, the effect provided a completely theatrical and emotionally absorbing experience. At its conclusion, the audience, naturally did the only thing they could and went appropriately nuts, calling both artists back several times.

After this kind of intense, emotional recital (the very opposite of a "light" entertainment) I half expected there would be either no encore, or perhaps a single lied generously offered. Instead, Mr. Pape, gifted us with three, the first the beautiful Zueignung of Richard Strauss, second a rarely performed, lovely Kinderwacht by Robert Schumann, and finally, a most unexpected one; Lerner and Lowe's If Ever I Would Leave You from the musical Camelot. In the final song, Herr Pape's English was superb, as the emotions poured out perfectly with the music, ending with the high note option and the singer clearly had the audience in the palm of his hand and (according to the announcers) leaping to their feet once again.

A truly marvelous way to spend the first Sunday afternoon of autumn.

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