Tenor Offers Two Song Cycles In One Recital

Posted: March 02, 1987

This season's Artsong Series of concerts at the Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany continued yesterday afternoon with an unusual and demanding program presented by veteran Philadelphia tenor Wayne Conner.

Featured were a pair of important but seldom-heard song cycles: Gabriel Faure's La bonne chanson and Benjamin Britten's Winter Words.

These two sets are familiar to all singers, but in most recitals, they tend to be passed over in favor of even more famous cycles by other composers. It is uncommon, too, to hear more than one complete cycle of songs in a single concert. Even short ones like these place considerable demands on the singer when done two at a time, yet Conner seemed scarcely to notice, tossing them off easily without even a break for intermission.

The tenor garnished his performance with some of the most entertaining and informative spoken program notes we have heard in some time. Indeed, so effectively donnish was he in this regard (he is, after all, a professor at the Peabody Conservatory) that the straightforward, superior professionalism of his singing came almost as a surprise. Ernest Ligon provided equally no- nonsense piano accompaniments.

As might be expected from a performer so attuned to language, Conner took great care to clearly enunciate and project his texts. And he was uncannily accurate in imitating a child's voice in "At the Railway Station, Upway,"

from Britten's cycle, where the poem presents the conversation of a young boy and a convict en route to jail.

Perhaps it was this concern with getting the words across that led him to have the piano's lid fully closed. This was, in any event, a mistake, the only one on an otherwise admirable program. Conner's vocal powers are easily equal to the short-stick, half-raised piano lid usually seen at voice recitals, whereas complete closure muffled and deadened the piano part, spoiling the effect of such passages as the "sunrise" imitation in Faure's "L'Hiver a cesse."

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