Neither rain, nor sleet, nor thick of night could keep Schubert groupies from attending Sunday's performance of Die Schone Mullerin at the Museum of Fine Arts, despite the soggy deluge of the afternoon's Nor'easter. After wading through the flooded Fenway in standard duck boots/GoreTex combo's, soaked devotees crowded into the MFA's Remis Auditorium to hear Christopheren Nomura perform some of the German composer's most effusive and affecting ballads.
In the distant age of sensitive nineteenth-century guys, Franz Schubert joined the bandwagon of paesan Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and fellow German Romantics, over-analyzing every passing emotion and fluttering of the heart. Here in the twenty-song cycle of Die Schone Mullerin (The Fair Maiden of the Mill), Schubert indulges his delicate sensibilities with harmonically textured compositions set to the often silly poetry of Wilhelm Muller. Schubert wrote more than 600 of these "lieder" (songs), elevating it to a major musical art form.
Commanding the stage in a barbershop quartet-style outfit, Boston soloist Christopheren Nomura accepted the challenge to make a few more female hearts go pitter-pat. However, Nomura simply could not consistently execute the intense and virile baritone sound required by these haunting and often histrionic ballads. Famous for his smashing successes on the interntional vocal scene, the young singer has been praised for his smooth, "lean" sound. Perhaps such high expectations made Sunday's performance a tad disappointing. It seemed as if Nomura were holding back, afraid to overpower the audience with the full weight and resonance of his voice, which his beefy physique is capable of supporting. Instead, the baritone caressed and beautified his phrasing, making for a somewhat pinched and contrived delivery.
The first song, "Das Wandern," in the sturdy key of G major, gave Nomura the opportunity to impressus with his artistry and musicality, as the lyrics describe the unrequired lover's dramatically changing emotional states. Nomura has a tremendous stage presence, quite an expressive face, and a sensitive ear for embellishments, yet his sound was on the wan side. With the strong tonal shift to A minor and major in songs 5 through 10, Nomura missed the opportunity for dramatic foreshadowing of the impending tragedy of the fair maid's rejection. His gentle and under-supported treatment left the audience waiting for a bolt of the energy and passion which the songs describe.
In the eleventh song, "Mein!", Nomura again achieved an elegant musical interpretation, belting out a powerful and untamed voice as the D major song crescendoes to the joyful exclamation that the "maid of the mill is mine!" Unfortunately such bravado and courage soon dissipated as Nomura resorted to stroking our ears with a very throaty voix mixte--not fully singing and lapsing into half tone--in the later B and E tonal musings on death and despair of "Die liebe farbe" and "Des Baches Wiegenlied."
Nomura was fortunate to be accompanied by Boston Museum Trio member John Gibbons on a period-appropriate Austrian fortepiano.
If the audience was not already verklempt by the romantic melodrama of Schubert's love songs, the dismal puddles of wasser waiting for them outside were sure to cast a dark shadow on their oh-so-sensitive souls.
Among the upcoming events in the MFA's Sunday Concert Series is the Boston Museum Trio performing music of Telemann on Nov. 3. For ticket information, call 566-1401.