This is not to ignore the beauty of her instrument or technique but what made this recital so special was the way she transmitted not only the meaning of the text but also her feelings about it. In this context, we were led to share her joy in singing. And isn't that what it's all about?
Ms. Petty charmed the audience by joking about the lack of translations and introducing the songs herself. Happily, her choice of material focused on the late 19th c. and early 20th c. Many of the songs were new to us. We confess to a strong bias towards A.B.E. (anything but English); nonetheless, her choices in that language were just fine. She opened the program with a set of American parlor songs--all settings of texts by Shakespeare.
Harvey Worthington Loomis' "Hark, hark, the lark" was followed by H.H.A. Beach's "Take, o take those lips away" in which Ms. Petty enjoyed the melisma and spun out a gorgeous high note; piano partner Miori Sugiyama was notable in that song. Ms. Petty revealed her charming personality in Frederick Ayres' setting of the cute "Where the bee sucks". The set ended with the provocative question "Tell me where is fancy bred" from Merchant of Venice. Henry F. Gilbert gave it a lovely setting.
We loved the set of songs by Joseph Marx and found Ms. Petty's German easier to understand than her English. This is not unique to her; we experience this lack of comprehension in nearly all English material, one of the reasons we have a bias against songs in English.
This difficulty was especially prominent in the set of songs by the Canadian composer John Greer. Judging by Ms. Petty's facial expression and bodily gesture, the songs are exceedingly funny; when we have an hour to spare we intend to look them up on the internet the better to appreciate them. Poet Paul Hiebert wrote the texts as one "Sarah Binks", the self-satisfied songstress of Saskatchewan who has mistranslated Heine and written songs about hog calling and a mock grief-sticken encomium to a dead calf, and so on. The irony and satire of lieder came across even without understanding most of the words, owing to Ms. Petty's dramatic skills.
Charles T. Griffes set four texts by Oscar Wilde for which he provided lovely vocal lines and some highly interesting piano accompaniment, beautifully played by Ms. Sugiyama. Again, we will need to look up the texts.
The French of Francis Poulenc's War Songs was finely handled and somewhat more comprehensible. "Le Disparu" was about a friend of the poet Desnos who died in a Nazi death camp. The other two evocative songs were settings of poems by Louis Aragon and dealt with the chaos and dislocation of war.
It was the final set of songs by Joaquin Turina that thrilled us the most. The vowels of Spanish are as delicious in the mouth as those of Italian and for once we could understand nearly every word. The set began with the piano performance of "Dedicatoria" during which Ms. Petty joked that she could have a rest from singing. We loved the irony of these songs so well captured by Ms. Petty; they are all about love and express a number of truisms that struck us powerfully. Poet Ramon de Campoamor had a lot to say indeed.
As an encore, the artist, newly made an aunt, sang Brahms' lullaby "Guten abend, gute nacht". Those words could also describe our feelings about this superb recital. We had a lovely evening and the good feelings would color our happy night.
(c) meche kroop