Poetic treasures and rarefied airs
by arwulf arwulf
From the January, 2018 issue
On January 31, lyric soprano Janai Brugger will step away from her busy schedule as ascendant opera star to return to Ann Arbor for a lieder recital at Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, accompanied by our master of collaborative piano, Martin Katz. The concert will open with a bouquet of French melodies by Francis Poulenc. "Pastoral Air" with words by Jean Moreas will be followed by an ode to the "Queen of the Seagulls" and two satires on marriage by Marie Louise Leveque de Vilmorin, who was praised by Poulenc for her "sensitive impertinence."
Yet the real treasure in this part of the program will be Poulenc's poignant setting of a poem by surrealist French Resistance poet Louis Aragon, simply entitled "C." This refers to "Les Ponts-de-Ce," a group of bridges spanning the river Loire near Angers in western France. Traversing the bridges on foot in 1942, the poet was haunted by visions of the distant past while contemplating the wretched aftermath of the German invasion, grimly embodied by overturned automobiles. Poulenc's music and Aragon's words form an unforgettable lament for all who suffered and perished in Nazi-occupied France.
Franz Schubert composed "On the River" near the end of his brief life. The verses by Ludwig Rellstab paint a wistful picture of an individual seated in a boat embarking on a sombre journey from familiar surroundings to the gray and turbulent expanse of the open sea. Scored for voice, piano, and French horn, "On the River" is considered the sole counterpart to Schubert's very last song, "The Shepherd on the Rock," in which the horn is replaced by a clarinet. Brugger and Katz's realization of "On the River" will feature U-M horn professor Adam Unsworth.
The first half of the concert will close with five lieder by Richard Strauss, including two love songs that he gave to his wife as a wedding present in 1894. The gentle music that Strauss wove around "Caecilie," a poem written by
essayist Heinrich Hart for his own wife, conveys a heady blend of amorous longing and contentment. Brugger's highly developed theatrical sensibilities are sure to enhance the Strauss Ophelia Lieder of 1919, adding Shakespeare to the evening's roster of lyricists.
The second set will open in the rarefied atmosphere of Sergei Rachmaninoff's songs on verses by six Russian Symbolist poets, composed in 1916 and dedicated to Ukrainian soprano Nina Koshetz. These were the last of Rachmaninoff's songs, for, after relocating to the United States, he devoted himself almost exclusively to the piano. Brugger's richly varied program will close with American composer Lee Hoiby's settings of nature poems by e.e. cummings, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake, William Butler Yeats, and Emily Dickinson.
[Originally published in January, 2018.]
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