It's always good news when Linda Kelm, perhaps the institution's most illustrious musical graduate, comes home to Westminster College. Hence the inaugural ceremonies of the new Jewett Center profited from her presence, to sing some of the Wagner for which she has become famous.
In this case it was not the taxing arias of Brunhilde or Isolde, but the five Wesedonck Songs, so called because the poetry was provided by Mathilde Wesedonck, a beautiful young German matron who was one of Wagner's muses and his partner in a passionate if short-lived affair.They are mostly songs of a quiet, intense nature, and two of them are designated as studies for "Tristan and Isolde." Especially is this apparent in "Traume" (Dreams), which foreshadows the love music of Act II; and Kelm's brilliant, rich voice was telling in this most familiar of the songs, with its long, building, overlapping phrases, though she had a tendency to break up phrases with breaths that seemed unnecessary.
Perhaps the loveliest song is "Im Treibhaus" (In the Greenhouse), in which the singer compares her own longings and disquietude with the spreading limbs and drooping leaves of the trees. Kelm was expressive in this song, building with feeling and quickening pace to the climax, then dwindling gently to the ending.
The cycle opens with the charming "Der Engel" (The Angel), in which the soprano scaled her voice to the simplicity and quietude of the piece. There were few opportunities in these songs for the Kelm trademark of high, galvanic, girderlike phrases, but she does show sensitivity and promise for the lieder repertoire, should she wish to pursue it.
The Westminster Chamber Orchestra under Manookian accompanied sensitively and capably and contributed well in its own right, offering a very decent performance of Bizet's Symphony in C Major - a good choice, with its prodigality of melody and bright, upbeat character.
The orchestra was well-rehearsed and competent in all florid work, and while there was a certain bareness and sparseness in connective passages, the effect was generally joyous and confident. The group is small for this work, but each section gave a good account of itself - notably the violins, each of whom appeared to be a player of substance.
Their sound was reasonably full, and their security in the running passages of the concluding Allegro vivace commanded respect. The whole group carried off a fugal passage quite elegantly and gave the requisite Oriental tincture to the Adagio.
Horns and other winds were also of respectable quality, and the abilities of the solo trumpet and oboe commanded special attention. Trumpeter David Champouillon and Roger Morandi, English horn, also showed to advantage in Copland's nicely shaped little fragment, "Quiet City," which opened the program.
It is too early to judge acoustic properties of the Jewett the-ater, though it did seem kinder to treble vibrations than to mid-range or lower frequencies, which had a tendency to thud. Nonetheless, the hall is handsome and, as groups adjust to it, should make a fine home for Westminster music.