The place: Herbst Theater. The time 8:40 p.m., Christine Brewer singing
Joseph Marx's "Selige Nacht." When she came to the end of "At the open
window the summer wind listened," somebody kicked my seat, forcefully.
I turned around, and noticed that the rest of the audience was looking
around too. Given the location, there was instant realization that a
quake just hit, a jolt I estimated under 4 on the Richter scale. (Found
out later that this latest greeting from the Hayward Fault was a healthy,
but non-destructive 4.2).
On the stage: no sign of alarm or even of notice of anything being out
of order. Craig Rutenberg's pearly tones kept flowing from the piano,
Brewer sang "and carried away the peacefulness of our breathing into the
moonlight," and she sang and sang (und Das Ochslein brullte, das Kindlein
schrie, Die heiligen drei Konige sangen... - wrong song, but that kind
of feeling of continuity).
After intermission, Brewer - in one of her informal and utterly charming
asides to the audience - said that she didn't notice the quake, Rutenberg
told her about it in the break.
Now about that score of 10: it's true, because it was a heavenly recital,
but technically the performance was not "flawless" - the soprano used
the score, at times rather frequently, and a few notes were not "perfect."
To relieve critics of the trouble, Brewer's last encore was Celius
Dougherty's "Review," a hilarious parody of the critique of a vocal
recital, with every reviewer cliche used and pilloried, in a marvelously
understated manner. To hell with pedants, Hanslicks, and Beckmeisters:
this concert charmed and moved and enchanted and entertained and some
passages carried one into another realm. It was a 10.
I've heard more passionate performances of Wagner's "Wesendonck Lieder,"
but none with a more consistent, overarching, cycle-long legato than
Brewer's. Crystalline diction, unshowy simplicity, and Rutenberg's
elegant, supportive accompaniment - it all came together.
Richard Strauss' "Wiegenlied" and "Befreit" were glowing, with tenderness
and un-gushing feeling. Marx's earthqake song and "Hat dich die Liebe
beruhrt" did what almost every single Marx performance does, raising the
obvious question: why not more of this superb composer?
And yet, if the first half was a 10, the second half - all in English -
turned into a veritable 11. John Carter's "Cantata," three songs from
Harold Arlen's "St. Louis Woman" Rutenberg shifting from Wagner to blues
without breaking a sweat, our beloved Isolde once again positing that
she will love us as nobody loved us, come rain or come shine.
Four songs were offered as a "Flagstat set" because the great soprano
sang them at most of her recitals: A. Walter Kramer's "Now like a
lanter," Barber's "Rain has fallen," Midred Lund Tyson's "Sea moods,"
and Edwin McArthur's "Night" - with time stopping on the last few bars,
Brewer (and Rutenberg) floating notes in the air without beginning or
end, producing for the listener a smile through tears.
Let the earth rock, let critics sneer and resist falling under the spell
of true magic - a 10.5 for Brewer and Rutenberg.
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