Respighi, Musto, Previn, Barber: Eric Cutler
(tenor) Bradley Moore (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 29.3.06
Eric Cutler appears at the Metropolitan
Opera, New York, as Tamino and as Andres, Wozzeck’s
hapless friend. Bradley Moore is an assistant conductor
at the same opera house. Together they have made a recording
of the songs of Schumann, Liszt, Barber and Hahn. This was
their first appearance live in recital in London.
The concert began with three songs by Fauré. Cutler’s
voice certainly filled the hall, for a “big”
voice it is, no doubt well suited to the demands of the
stage. Volume alone, however, is not quite enough in art
song recital, especially when technique is still being polished.
Cutler certainly can vary his tone for better effect, such
as in Adieu, where he sang the opening lines in a lighter,
more lyrical fashion, and drew out the long, final “Adieu!”
attractively. The Fauré can just about cope with
Cutler’s firm style, but not so the songs of Reynaldo
Hahn. Hahn’s music is so refined to be almost transparent:
it’s charm lies in its delicate subtlety. Moore’s
somewhat didactic playing was too dominant when it could
have been more gentle. In the beginning of the divine Á
Chloris, it was even jerky where it should be smooth.
Cutler seemed to swallow his words into his chest, his clipped
delivery very different in feel from a song inspired by
Bach’s Air on a G String. He does make an effort
to sing idiomatic French, rolling his “r”’s
nicely in lines like “Rien n’a donc change
pour vous” and clipping the “c” sharply.
On the other hand, it was not sustained throughout, with
a few unsteady surprises, such as an unrecognisable “fumées”.
Presumably his career will favour roles in French and Italian,
for he is even more unconvincing in German, as his encore
showed later. More sympathetic was his treatment of the
Respighi songs which followed. In these the piano part is
mainly decorative, rather than commentary, leaving the voice
to supply the artistry. At this point in his career, Cutler’s
vocal colours come in a fairly basic palette, serviceable
but without much variation.
Perhaps this limited range came from the perfectly normal
tension that arises when making a debut at what is one of
the most formidable recital halls in Europe. Thomas Helmsley
said that “perhaps the greatest cause of self consciousness
among singers is obsession with voice… of failing
to put into practice the principle that all singing, physical
and emotional and spiritual, must be initiated in the singer’s
imagination”. In art song, as opposed to the broader
brush of opera, it’s even more important that a singer
responds and relates to each song in an individual way.
Cutler and Moore appear in white tie and tails: perhaps,
were they to adopt more informal European recital costume,
they could save themselves a little pressure. It is a minor
detail, but one which might help them focus on their music,
not their “performance” as such.
I had high hopes for the second half of the concert, featuring
American composers. The first was John Musto’s who
set poems by Langston Hughes. Hughes’ poems are understated
but powerful. Maybe Musto tries to make their irony stronger
by creating melodic settings, but I’m not sure it’s
effective. A poem about lynching is hard to carry off without
genuine intensity. Cutler sings the predictable crescendos
adequately, and even adopts a high, almost falsetto tone
for the lines “any place is dreary” in Could
Be. Musto attempts a kind of jazz counterpoint in the
same song but it comes over as repetition. More inventive
are the songs of André Previn. Cutler seemed to enjoy
these songs, singing with more enthusiasm. The highlights
of the programme, though, were the songs by Samuel Barber.
The lovely In the Wilderness, to words by Robert
Graves, sets a challenge with lines like “Basilisk,
cockatrice, flocked to its homilies”, and Cutler’s
diction negotiated them well. Barber even captures the spirit
of James Joyce in the terse Solitary Hotel, where
the singer sings alone, without accompaniment at strategic
points in the song. Dramatic effect is thus automatically
built into the music, giving the song vibrant narrative.
The audience seemed to like the big crescendos and volume,
but for me, this was another example of the fundamental
differences between singing opera and art song.