At the HST Thursday Evening.
It is, I suppose, only natural and right that concert artists want to perform the music of their own countrymen, even if it is not music of the highest order. Kirsten Flagstad, for example, gave Grieg perhaps more than his due as a song-writer on her programs, and we are told that John McCormack ended each of his recitals with things like "Mother Machree" and "I hear you calling me."
Teresa Berganza, the young Spanish mezzo-soprano, carried on this tradition in particularly disheartening fashion last Thursday night, filling the entire second half of her recital with a remarkably undistinguished lot of songs by Granados, de Falla, Montsalvatge, and the Brazilian Villa-Lobos. There were cradle-songs and tormented Flamenco--like songs, and two or three varities of that hardy perennial of the concert platform, the "delightful" song about a timid or a talkative lover, which ends with an exasperated little yelp from the singer (and polite titters from the old ladies in the audience). On a balmy night in Barcelona, a few of these songs might have been pleasant; it was, in fact, a chilly evening in Cambridge, and fifteen of them (plus two encores) proved a bit wearing.
In all fairness to Miss Berganza, it must be said that she did her best work of the evening with these songs. She has a fresh and lovely Mezzo-soprano, bright in color and quite brilliant at the top, though without the excitingly "chesty" low notes that are the stock-in-trade of so many mezzos. Her singing of the Spanish group was of course expert--all done with lovely tone, the right moods struck and the vocal difficulties encompassed. Yet there was none of that real vibrance and passion which alone can make these songs engaging, none of the personal excitement provided-if we can judge by her recordings-by the great Conchita Supervia.
Excitement was missing, too, from the 18th century arias with which Miss Berganza opened her recital: she sang them very nicely indeed (except for a disastrous trill in Handel's Lascia ch'io pianga), but instead of the grand manner and absolute command of style so necessary for Alessandro Scarlatti or Cherubini, she provided a good deal of hand-clasping and those imploring looks to the heavens which ought to be banned forever from the concert stage. In Rossini's Non Piu mesta (from La Cenerentola)--and Miss Berganza has something of a reputation as a Rossini specialist--one again heard impeccable vocalism which managed to be utterly unexciting. Though Non Piu mesta is one of the silliest both Giulietta Simionato and Victoria de los Angeles are still able to transform what is essentially a vocalise into something quite thrilling, for they seem to believe, at least for the duration of the aria, that it is really a terrific piece of music, and that they are singing it better than it has ever been sung before.
Miss Berganza improved in a short group of French songs, and was especially touching in Debussy's Noel des enfants qui n' not plus des maisons. This was the closest thing to a great song on the program, and, had there been more music of this substantial sort in her Thursday night concert, we might have been able to appraise Miss Berganza as the fine artist she seems to be, rather than merely as the "excellent singer" she obviously is.