Christine Brewer & Paul Jacobs
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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Christine Brewer & Paul Jacobs

Alice Tully Hall

IS THERE A SINGER NOW ACTIVE MORE suitably matched with the organ than Christine Brewer? In “Prayer,” her November 1 joint recital with Paul Jacobs, the scale of the American soprano’s voice equaled that of the splendid Alice Tully Hall pipe organ itself. This was not just a matter of volume, but of texture: in all but its top notes, Brewer sent forth a sound without edges, a grand musical tone produced with seemingly as little effort as Jacobs exerted to call forth sonic oceans from his keyboard. 

The program consisted of sacred and spiritual music, including much that was familiar (Franck’s “Panis angelicus,” Gounod’s “O Divine Redeemer!” and the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, with Schubert’s version as an encore) along with some rarities (Lili Boulanger’s Pie Jesu and the young Puccini’s “Salve del ciel regina”). I have no idea of what Brewer’s personal beliefs may be, but her stage persona was here convincingly that of a person of faith, one who uses song to explore and express her spiritual nature. Her mode of presentation was simplicity itself; her manner told us that the truest expression of religious devotion was also the plainest. Her very first selection, Bach’s “Bist du bei mir,” served as an announcement of her virtues, executed with unostentatious technical mastery and a directness of utterance that told gave the aria the ring of truth.

Not all was on this level. The evenness of tone that Brewer carries throughout most of her range does not extend to her top, which made high climaxes (in the Puccini piece, for instance) fall uneasily on the ear. More bothersome was the sense of loose preparation that she sometimes conveyed. It was not a long program—75 minutes in total, with generous spaces between vocal sets for Jacobs’s solo playing. But still the soprano stayed “on-book” throughout the concert. She seemed to know some pieces intimately, like the Bach and Handel’s “But oh! What art can teach,” which made her music stand seem more like a crutch than a mnemonic aid. But for three Wolf songs, arranged for organ by Max Reger, Brewer donned reading glasses. Perhaps these tricked me into hearing an element of tentativeness in her singing, but this set seemed like the least successful segment of the recital. 

Jacobs’s work, both as collaborator and soloist, was marvelous to hear, most particularly in the Toccata and Fugue from Reger’s Twelve Pieces, op. 59—a performance that, amidst the concert’s music of monotheistic faith, achieved a pagan intensity.  —Fred Cohn 

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