Laura Claycomb, the soprano with the brightest coloratura and the
brightest red hair, also has laser-bright projection, burning-bright
intellect, daring, appeal, and indefatigability to the max. Appearances
notwithstanding, this is just a factual report of her recital tonight
at the San Francisco Legion of Honor.
On a Monday night, out at Land's End half-hidden by the fog over the
Pacific, the recital audience was understandably small, but the event
was extraordinary, it should have drawn thousands. When it's repeated
(http://www.chambermusicsf.org/index.html#claycomb) Sunday afternoon,
literally at the threshold of the newly opened "Monet in Normandy"
exhibit, there will be a full house in the Florence Gould Theater.
That bright, bright (sorry), effortless voice soared from the first
note (Vivaldi's "Par che tardi oltre il costume") to the last, 2 1/2
hours later, in the encore, a Villa-Lobos "Bachianas Brasileiras."
Pianist and arranger Peter Grunberg anchored the unusual accompaniment,
consisting of cellist Nina Kotova and guitarist Marc Teicholz. Following
the Vivaldi, there was a letter-perfect, although strangely un-Handelian
"Per te lasciai la luce."
An eight-piece French set followed, one of the evening's highlights,
both in interpretation and flawless diction. Two moody Debussy songs,
a sparkling Jean Francaix, an affecting Messiaen framed the best: Faure's
gorgeously lyrical prayer, "En priere," Chausson's "Le Colibri," its
final line of "My soul likewise would have wanted to die / Of the first
kiss, which has perfumed it" delivered with melting beauty, Poulenc's
"Fleurs promises," and Bizet's "Ouvre ton Coeur," Greenberg's arrangement
for cello and guitar framing Claycomb's voice perfectly.
An ordinary human would probably have scheduled an intermission at this
point, but Claycomb was just warming up, ready to deliver a fiery de
Falla "Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas." Dramatic, yet restrained,
warm but not "cute," the soprano's "Seguidilla" and the closing "Polo"
fairly erased memories of performances heard before.
Claycomb's varied programming then peaked with cellist Kotova's "Lyrica
Suite," music brilliantly contemporary yet appealing in an "old-fashioned"
sense, to five poems by Andrej Belij (pseudonym of Boris Nikolaevich
Bugaev), an important but little-known Russian writer of the early 20th
century. Kotova was merciless with her own instrument and the soprano's
voice, demanding technically and musically near-impossible feats -
challenges met without any evidence of effort by Claycomb or Kotova.
The a capella "Before," the dreamy "Reminiscence," the haunting "Spirit,"
and the closing "Demon" all made a deep impression even on first hearing.
Four songs from Walton's romantic but wry "Anon. in Love" and four rich
Previn songs to poems by Toni Morrison led to the Villa-Lobos encore,
and the spectacle of an audience too tired to applaud anymore. Claycomb
looked fresh as a daisy, apparently disappointed that she had to stop
Word to the wise: the Sunday repeat concert begins at 2 p.m. (Claycomb
will give a pre-concert talk at 1:30, unconcerned about saving her voice
before such a long and demanding recital. Hutzpah or hubris?)
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