Vanessa Schukis has a voice, and she knows how to use it! On Thursday Jan. 12, as part of the John Kleshinski Concert Series at the Community Music Center of Boston, with the estimable Scott Nicholas on piano, with additional help from Noralee Walker on violin, Schukis presented a program entitled “Weill-esque,” an hour-long song recital which allowed her display the wide range of her considerable talent. The thoughtfully chosen program expressed varying aspects of love, from the raunchy to the sublime, earthy and physical to wistful and profound.
Ms. Schukis entered the concert space from the back of the hall, walking through the audience as she opened with Kurt Weill’s “Alabama Song”. This created a connection with the audience and made excellent use of the intimacy of the space. The next several numbers, “Stranger Here Myself” by Weill, and “Apathetic Man” by Goldrich & Hesler, and “I Never Do Anything Twice” by Sondheim allowed the lower range of her voice to express whiskey and smoke (the audience seemed only a drink away from being in a cabaret), as well as her humorous acting ability. In Kurt Weill’s “Nanna’s Lied,” a song very reminiscent of a Brahms garden gone to seed, her voice took on a more operatic tone, and while she scaled the performance to the space, you sensed the volume and power of which her voice is capable. This quality was also present in “Spiel auf deiner Geige,” when Ms. Walker’s gypsy violin accompanied the Richard Stolz song. If it were within her vocal range, she’d sing a heck of a “Vissi d’Arte.”
After letting the powerful side of her voice out, Ms. Schukis followed with a clean, wistful interpretation of “Falling in Love Again” by Frederick Hollander. For William Bolcom’s “Blue,” Ms. Schukis sat in a chair by the piano, echoing the words of stillness. This song had tricky chromatic lines, with some angular harmonic accompaniment, almost Schoenbergian. The final two songs, “Je ne t’aime pas” by Weill, and the classic “La Vie En Rose” by Louiguy cranked the emotional volume beyond 11. Seated at a small table on stage, clutching a wine bottle, denying that she loves the man who has broken her heart, this was a full-on operatic scene, which brought tears to the eyes. The final song was delivered with resignation and regret, offering a magnificent cycle of emotional range and musical intrigue which earned an instantaneous standing ovation.
Scott Nicholas is one of Boston’s most in-demand accompanists, and with good reason. A solid supporter, with the ability to make the piano sound like a harmonica as easily as a concert grand, he did an outstanding job. Ms. Walker & Mr. Nicholas also played a delightfully nostalgic “Waltzing in the Clouds” by Stolz as an interlude.
Elisa Birdseye, executive director of the Boston Chamber Ensemble, is an active freelance violist and principal violist of the New Bedford Symphony. Additionally, she has worked as the general manager of the New England Philharmonic and Boston Musica Viva.