On Friday, Jan. 25, four Conservatory faculty members collaborated for an excellent recital in Harper Hall. Lecturer of Music and soprano Esther Oh Zabrowski, Associate Professor of Music and oboist Nora Lewis, Assistant Professor of Music and horn player Ann Ellsworth and Assistant Professor of Music and pianist Andrew Crooks performed a variety of classical works. The program oscillated between vocal and instrumental works while featuring the piano on every piece.
The recital opened with Franz Schubert’s “Auf dem Strom” sung by Zabrowksi and featuring Ellsworth and Crooks on horn and piano, respectively. A beautiful horn and piano interlude set the stage for Zabrowski, whose lovely voice rang through the hall. The song’s translated lyrics, available to audience members in a packet along with their programs, detail the speaker’s sadness about leaving their homeland. The horn calls in this piece represented the speaker’s remembrances of home, while the stormy, brooding piano accompaniment symbolized the speaker’s sadness at sailing away. Zabrowski, Ellsworth and Crooks performed emotional crescendos in this work, which ended on a somber, low note in the horn.
Lewis introduced the next series of movements from Francis Poulenc’s “Sonata for Oboe and Piano” and “Deux Poèmes de Louis Aragon” by talking about Poulenc’s background. Poulenc grew up in France and had a wonderful childhood, but he became obsessed with heredity and tormented by grief in his later years. Lewis said that the first movement, “Elégie” of the “Sonata for Oboe and Piano,” served as an elegy for Poulenc’s own life and for the lives of his close friends who had died in previous years. This movement began with Crooks’ gentle piano accompaniment underscoring Lewis’ ambling oboe melody with soaring lines. By the end, however, both instruments had transitioned to a dark, booming low register, where prickly piano chords responded to clear oboe calls into the void.
Interspersed with movements from this sonata were poems “C” and “Fêtes Galantes” from “Deux Poèmes de Louis Aragon.” Zabrowski and Crooks collaborated well for these poems: “C” featured an impressive high note with glissando by Zabrowski while “Fêtes Galantes” showcased her virtuosity with swift, sung speech and an ocean of crackling consonants as she recited the poem’s harried lines of waywardness. Meanwhile, the second and third movements of the “Sonata for Oboe and Piano” presented unsettling thuds for oboe and piano in the scherzo and a murky, ethereal piano interlude paired with a high oboe line in the final movement, respectively.
Two movements of Johann Joachim Quantz’s “Concerto for Horn and Oboe in E-flat” followed, which displayed Ellsworth and Lewis’ skills as soloists. Both Ellsworth and Lewis maintained steadiness throughout their ensemble even as the difficulty of their parts increased while Crooks supplied a sensitive piano accompaniment.
For the final section of the program, Zabrowski sang “6 Leider, Op. 13” by Clara Schumann, and Lewis performed the first romance of Clara Schumann’s “3 Romanzen, Op. 22,” both accompanied by Crooks. Crooks introduced these pieces by informing the audience that all of Clara’s songs were written as presents to Robert Schumann. Also, he announced that this year marks the 200th anniversary of Clara’s birth, and the recital happened to be on Lewis’ own birthday. He said their performance of Clara’s works would pass along the gifts of her music. Zabrowski sang each of the “6 Leider” with feeling and beautiful phrasing, while Lewis performed the yearning melody of the romance with well-coordinated trade-offs with Crooks on piano. At the end of the recital, the four faculty members returned to the stage to perform a Poulenc arrangement as an encore in a sublime blend of all the professors’ talents.
Overall, this faculty recital demonstrated yet again the high caliber of musicality present in Conservatory faculty members. Students are privileged to have the opportunity to experience the talents and learn from the expertise of these fine musicians.