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Seen and Heard Recital Review


Fauré, Hahn, Respighi, Musto, Previn, Barber: Eric Cutler (tenor) Bradley Moore (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 29.3.06 (AO)

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.

Anne Ozorio




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