Erin Wall, Steven LaBrie & Spencer Myer
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Erin Wall, Steven LaBrie & Spencer Myer

George London Foundation, Morgan Museum's Gilder Lehrman Hall

CLASSICAL SINGERS ARE TRAINED to project their voices into large halls without benefit of amplification. That’s all well and good when they’re singing at the Met. But when asked to give a piano-accompanied recital in a much smaller venue, they need to be able to scale things down. 

The young singers who appear as part of the George London Foundation concerts at the Morgan Museum’s intimate, 240-seat Gilder Lehrman Hall have show themselves to be either naturally adept at making this transition—or woefully unsuited. As these concerts are actually dual recitals featuring two singers, each can be a very mixed bag. On October 18, soprano Erin Wall and baritone Steven LaBrie exemplified both ends of the extreme. 

The good news first: LaBrie proved himself a natural. The handsome young baritone commanded the stage from the moment he entered, exuding confidence and charisma, and wielded a voice of pleasing timbre that responded with real pliancy to his interpretive choices. Debussy’s Three Ballads of Francois Villon were a perfect match for him, with their sense of panache, seduction, and wit. He offered a “Ja vas lyublyu” from Queen of Spades that was ardent and impassioned, marked by excellent diction, a beautiful diminuendo, and a final messa da voce that was effortless. His most unusual selection was a series of five ballads by four Mexican composers of the twentieth century: Agustín Lara, Alfonso Esparza Oteo, María Grever, and Ignacio Fernandez Esperón. The Oteo entry, “Dime que sí,” was a waltz that showed how fluidly LaBrie’s voice moves; the Lara, “Humo en los ojos,” exploited both ends of his considerable range. Grever’s “Júrame” was a cry of passion and despair in which LaBrie pulled out all the emotional stops, but tastefully so. Throughout his stage time, he calibrated his vocal production to suit the confines Gilder Lehrman Hall.

Unfortunately Wall was not able to do so. She pushed her voice as if she were singing at the Arena di Verona, making it nearly impossible to judge its timbral qualities. Bouncing off the walls of the small auditorium like a cannonball, it was painfully loud, smothering color and diction under its blast. It was not possible to enjoy Korngold’s rarely-performed Drei Lieder under the circumstances. Her “No Word From Tom” from The Rake’s Progress emerged as a mass of vowels and few consonants. Richard Strauss’s Gesänge des Orients in the second half of the concert found her trying to apply a bit more color and shade through dynamics.

If she is to do more concerts, Wall will need to develop a more engaging persona. She tended to sing everything with one pained facial expression, and spent much of the time looking down at the stage floor.

Throughout the recital, pianist Spencer Myer offered both singers excellent, responsive support. —Eric Myers 


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