at Holmes Hall Wednesday night
PHYSICALLY, Carlotta Wilsen is a performer difficult to miss. Her brilliant red hair, and chiselled Nordic-Gaelic features, combined with statuesque height and posture to match, give her a striking concert presence, one that has not been seen here in a long time.
Wednesday night Miss Wilsen presented a recital for soprano remarkable for its originality. Instead of the usual chronological sequence of song groups by Schubert, Schumann, Faure, Wolf, Debussy, and so on, her program was divided between Cantata No. 51 of J.S. Bach ("Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen"), setting by various composers of Goethe's "Rastlose Liebe" and Paul Verlaine's "Clair de lune," along with the cycle On This Island by Benjamin Britten to poetry of W. H. Auden.
Miss Wilsen's voice (her "instrument" as vocalists in the know might say) is basically as lovely as her appearance, though it can have an unpleasant choked sound in the lower register. Her performance at Holmes unfortunately revealed serious technical problems in handling the music. The Bach solo cantata was the closest to coloratura the Master ever came, and is a tough order for anyone to handle. Wednesday night Bach's elegant roulades were indistinct and slow; the tempo dragged at every soprano entrance. The accompanying trumpet, string quartet, and harpsichord, though. perfectly competent, was unconducted and therefore had major difficulties with ensemble.
THE two groups of comparative settings were interesting for historical and compositional reasons. Besides the staples Schubert, Faure and Debussy, they gave hearing to such out of the way composers as C. F. Zelter, J. F. Reichardt, Robert Franz and Josef Szulc. The art song is probably one of the most difficult musical media to perform well. Miss Wilsen's effort was noble, but in a sense she was trying too hard. Her tone was often forced and she had trouble with breath control.
Relaxation is the hardest, but also the most necessary quality for a performer to attain. It was only in the Britten, where Miss Wilsen did not have to struggle with a less-than-familiar language, that her performance got off the ground and even ended the program with a lively, humorous flair. All in all it was an admirable maiden recital and I am sure those who were there look forward to hearing from Miss Wilsen again.