Yesterday’s concert in the Songmasters Series at Mazzoleni Hall featured Mireille Asselin and Brett Polegato with Peter Tiefenbach and Rachel Andrist in a program of songs more or less related to painting and painters. The first half of the program was all French; Fauré and Debussy. Mireille and Peter gave us two songs from Fauré’s Cinq mélodies de Venise plus three pieces from Debussy’s Fêtes galantes and Pantomime from Quatre chansons de jeunesse. I thought the Debussy generally suited Mireille’s voice rather better than the Fauré. The first three songs were beautifully and charmingly sung while Pantomime gave full rein to Mireille’s considerable comedic talents. The highlight of the first half for me though was Brett’s singing of the Poulenc work that gave the concert its title. Seven songs by Paul Eluard; each a brief portrait of a painter. Written at the same time as Dialogues des Carmélites, these pieces have the same sort of intensity and drive (and decided non trivial piano parts!). They were most expertly sung with fine diction and legato and a keen sense of the varied moods of each piece.
After the break it was onto German and English. First up, Brett with two songs from Schumann’s Sechs Gedicte aus dem Liederbuch eines Malers. This was simply lovely; Brett’s voice limpidly beautiful with exquisite attention to the text. Then on to a couple of Blake settings by Walter MacNutt. Personally I think there should be at least a two century moratorium on setting The Lamb and nothing about this one or the setting of Spring did anything to change my mind. Walton’s Holy Thursday though was a meatier affair and very well sung.
Britten’s Cradle Song was arranged as a duet (one suspects by the versatile Mr. Tiefenbach who was at the piano). It worked really well that way with fine performances from both singers. Then came two songs from Jake Heggie’s A Question of Light sung by Brett. These were very Heggie; complex, melodic with hints of minimalism and a kind of ethereal haunting quality. Most interesting and quite a contrast with the lighter, more heart on sleeve, Lucky Child that Mireille sang next, with great feeling it must be said.
Then it was time for the comic relief with a very funny rendering of Sheldon Harnick’s The Ballad of the Shape of Things by Mireille. She really does have great stage presence and comic timing. Evans and Livingston’s Mona Lisa preceded the final duet, a Tiefentorontotastic arrangement of Cole Porter’s You’re the Top, sung with great verve and wicked playing from Mr. Tiefenbach. A fun way to end an interestingly curated and very well executed concert.