Posted in Classical Music
Jan 30, 2015
by Wayne Lee Gay
Vocal music of Franz Liszt—yes, you read that correctly—provided the highest of several high points in the recital by tenor Lawrence Brownlee and pianist Kevin Murphy at the Kimbell Art Museum’s Rienzo Piano Pavilion Thursday night. Liszt is, of course, remembered primarily for his solo piano music, and secondarily for orchestral music and a bit of organ music. So, maybe it’s appropriate that the Cliburn Foundation, an organization principally associated with the piano, would be the sponsor of an event in which the hero of the piano was revealed to be a great composer of vocal music as well.
Tenor Brownlee’s muscular, always stunningly accurate artistry proved ideal for Liszt’s Tre Sonneti del Petrarca (Three Sonnets of Petrarch). Although infrequently performed in the original version for voice and piano—but a part of the standard piano repertoire in Liszt’s own transcriptions for piano solo—this monumental triptych ranks among the greatest masterworks of music for voice with piano. The huge demands on both the pianist and singer are largely responsible for the relatively neglect of the original version; these demands extend far beyond the merely technical, for these three settings require an intellectual empathy with both fourteenth-century Italy, from whence the text, and nineteenth-century romanticism, which produced the music. Brownlee and Murphy clearly demonstrated the ability to discover and draw together both of those elements.
Brownlee and Murphy navigated readily form Liszt to twentieth-century Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera’s Five Popular Argentinean Songs, providing an impressively different direction with succinct images of love and life, ranging from the boisterous Chacarera to the delightful illogic of Gato (“Cat”).
A set of five traditional African-American spirituals arranged for voice and piano by contemporary American composer Damien Sneed provided the third high point in the concert.