Despite and Still, Op.41
Poème dun jour, Op.21
Le Rossignol des lilas
Shadow of the Blues
Eric Cutler (tenor) & Bradley Moore (piano)
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: 29 March, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
In a change from the so often heard German Lieder at Wigmore Hall, the young American tenor Eric Cutler and the pianist Bradley Moore presented French and Italian songs in the first part of their programme and devoted the second half to three American composers.
The opening words of the first song, ‘Rencontre’ from Fauré’s short cycle, revealed the sweet timbre of Cutler’s soft singing. The voice has a high centre of focus. It also became apparent early on that he knows the value of shading his tone. Light touches in that song yielded to fuller, more outgoing responses and a greater volume for ‘Toujours’, only to return to a softer sound for a finely nuanced ‘Adieu’, which benefited from an attractive head-voice, especially the gorgeous final “adieu”. Cutler’s intelligent reading was sympathetically supported by the like-minded playing of Moore.
The four Hahn songs, beginning with the utterly charming “À Chloris”, again found both performers attentive to the music’s mood. Equally delightful was “Le Rossignol des Lilas”. Both these songs and “Paysage” are included on the pair’s EMI CD. It must be said that Cutler’s high-lying voice was somewhat weak at the bottom, which lacked sweetness and was not well supported. Occasional throat-clearing suggested that perhaps that part of the voice was experiencing an off day, but taken in context it was a minor matter.
Italian songs do not often find a place at the Wigmore Hall, though Italian singers are even rarer. Respighi’s “Deità silvane”, five songs from 1917, is a cycle which is infrequently heard, either in the concert hall or on record. (Respighi made an arrangement with chamber orchestra eight years later.) Nevertheless, the accompaniment is full of rich, sensuous harmonies, in which Moore was fully engaged, releasing the kaleidoscope of keyboard colours. The five songs also brought out Cutler’s more dramatic leanings and showed that the voice has a strength on high in full flow that contrasts notably with his mezza voce lyricism.
The American songs were not ones from which the listener could form a clear picture of a singer’s voice; they detailed more Cutler’s interpretative abilities. First came John Musto setting four Langston Hughes poems. Jazz-inflected, blues-orientated, these songs capture the essence of the texts. I particularly liked ‘Litany’, which, as Gerald Larner points out, is in gospel mode and tells of “all the scum of our weary city”. ‘Litany’ allows the pianist much individuality, the prelude and postlude being quietly effective, contrasting with the vigorous accompaniment of “Island”. “Could be”, the last song, is the one with the blues similarities, to which Cutler brought almost a casualness as the poet lazily thinks that it might have been in this street or that avenue, that maybe she loves him or maybe she doesn’t. It is a short cycle, convincingly put across by singer and pianist, that I should not mind hearing again, which is more than I can say for Previn’s “Four Songs”, written in 2004. There is much clutter and bustle in the piano part, but I thought the vocal line uninteresting. Nothing was ‘said’ to me, and I failed to respond.
Barber’s “Despite and Still”, composed for Leontyne Price in 1968-69, was more worthwhile. Again, both Cutler and Moore made a positive impression. By this time, Cutler’s lower notes seemed to be clearer; he also summoned enough vocal power for ‘In the wilderness’, though I was also fascinated by Robert Graves’s rhyme scheme. Cutler involved us in what the young woman was doing in ‘Solitary Hotel’.
It was an interesting evening with two fine performers. Cutler is due to sing Ernesto in “Don Pasquale” at Covent Garden in July.