The In Series’ latest offering is a real treat for a Sunday afternoon. Performed at Source Theatre, “The Romantics III” features the songs of Robert Schumann (1810-1856), in a salon-style concert. For those familiar with ‘art song recitals,’ you might expect intimidating flashy concert wear and big grand pianos, but for those of you familiar with the history of German Lieder (an almost tautological term, seemingly half translated, with the word ‘Lieder’ simply meaning ‘songs’ in German), you will know that this music’s heritage is in much more intimate, and informal settings, like the salon. In returning a little bit of the original essence of this tradition to the concert, “The Romantics” creates a much richer experience of these iconic works, and hopefully an opportunity that particularly rewards new listeners.
The first half of the concert consists of the complete song cycle “Dichterliebe” Op.48, one of Schumann’s best known works, to the words of Heinrich Heine (1797-1856). As we enter Source Theatre, a homely rug sits on the floor, and an upright piano (albeit a Steinway), which shows its years, is warmly lit by Stefan Johnson’s lighting design. Our host for the evening, Frank Conlon – a relaxed, and enthusiastic musical advocate – opens proceedings by introducing us to a little bit of history and description of the music, relaxing us into what we are about to hear.
…“The Romantics” creates a much richer experience of these iconic works, and hopefully an opportunity that particularly rewards new listeners.
Byron Jones, tenor, has a beautiful, warm tone, perfectly suited to “Dichterliebe”, and was able to judge and adjust his delivery to the theatrical acoustic. His dramatic performance was sensitive and convincing to the demands of the increasingly erratic shifting moods of “Dichterliebe”. Schumann himself went so far as to gives names to what he regarded as his competing personalities, which seem to be evoked and pitted against each other as the cycle progresses. Though English translations are provided, projected in real time with Jonathan Dahm Robertson’s visual designs, Jones’ German pronunciation is crisp and clear. The idea of reading, in English, the prologue to Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo, from which Schumann drew the poems for “Dichetrliebe”, is a nice touch that added context and invited us into the world of German romanticism, as well as the proverbial ‘warmth’ of the salon. A few moments of unsupported sound in the quieter moments of two songs lent a pleasing vulnerability to Jones’ interpretation, and an interesting variety of vocal colour.
Carla Hübner, artistic director of the series, and accompanist for the evening finds lovely shades in the rich accompaniments. Schumann was primarily a pianist, and took great care in his writing for the instrument, even including extended passages for solo piano. The sound of the old upright in the theatre, while very different to that of a grand piano in a concert hall, adds a beautiful texture, and character both to the song, and to the atmosphere, demonstrating how versatile and diverse these songs are.
The second half includes comments from the audience, discussion with the musicians and Robertson, and a few additional songs and piano movements by Schumann. The real treats of the concert are the duets, less often heard, beautifully rendered by Jones and Mezzo Soprano Elizabeth Mondragon. There were a few moments of disagreement about the alignment of German vowels, but the blend of the voices was exquisite in “So wahr die Sonne scheinet” (As truly as the sun shines) as was the dramatic chemistry between the singers. Hübner starred in the haunting final song, “In der Nacht,” also wonderfully handled by Jones and Mondragon. Mondragon also sang three solo songs from “Myrthen” Op.25. She has wonderful control, and the breathtaking softer moments were particularly beautiful, though the full, incredible power of her voice, when unleashed, seemed sometimes overpowering in that particular acoustic.
This is a concert created with care, and attention to every detail, not just a rehashing of a well known song cycle. If you love Schumann, you need to get along, but more importantly, if you don’t know any Schumann, then this is the perfect opportunity to change that, and I urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission.
The final performance of “The Romantics” is the 29th of October at 2:30pm at Source Theatre. For more information and to book tickets click here.