in: Reviews

February 21, 2012

The Poets of Song and Piano Speak


Russell Sherman and Frank Kelly montage. (BMInt staff photo)

There was a memorable Schumanniade last Sunday in Emmanuel Music’s Chamber Series. The pianist was Russell Sherman; the tenor was Frank Kelley — both long time friends of Emmanuel. Kelley has been singing in Emmanuel’s  various series for many years, and Sherman was the NEC piano teacher of Emmanuel’s founder, Craig Smith (1947-2007). The two compositions on the program were both, in a way, episodic character pieces: one for piano solo, Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood) op. 15, and the other for voice and piano, the composer’s Dichterliebe (Poet’s Love), op. 48.

A recital does not get better than this! Russell Sherman began with Kinderszenen, a twenty minute evocation of the moods of childhood rather than a set of pieces written for children. In Sherman’s highly personal and imaginative approach the “Träumerei” (Reverie, Dreaming) movement had melting tone and an overpowering poignancy. And the last movement, “Der Dichter Spricht” (The Poet Speaks), had delicious Luftpausen or interruptions. Yet in some of the other songs, those interruptions (including one for a page turn) and Sherman’s dreaminess may have given the impression of arrhythmia. Sherman has a special way with rubato, and employs elaborate colorations with the damper pedal and una-corda. At his best Sherman’s results are subtle and affecting and very recognizable as his own, but at times during Kinderszenen one yearned for more simplicity.

Schumann’s Dichterliebe is set to the German romantic poems of Heinrich Heine. The piano comments upon the emotions of each song, especially in the postludes, and in his role of responsive poet Sherman impressed with his tonal magic, yet during the song accompaniments Sherman showed surprising deference to the tenor. And Frank Kelley excelled as a communicative artist, giving us the impression that he was confiding in us individually. His German enunciation was impeccable. The student from Cologne sitting next to me never looked down at the texts. Kelley’s burnished tone was just right for the wood paneled 200-seat auditorium. His legato was admirable, but his sensitivity to the texts and the shifts of mood was superlative.

Those who were not Germanophones benefited from the excellent translations by James C. Liu with assistance from Alison Hickey, Emily Spear, and James Wilkinson. The overflow audience included a substantial number of students from the Sherman/Byun studio at NEC who were accommodated in another room. Despite the somewhat still air, concentration was palpable and not a cough or rustle could be heard.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

1 Comment

  1. It was a remarkable afternoon. And a remarkable alchemy. Sherman conjured and with deeply artful readings of the text Frank Kelley took us to the mid-19th century. I’m not sure that anywhere other than Boston could host such an event. The black sorrow of the ending was palpable.

    Comment by Raro — February 22, 2012 at 10:52 pm

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