A small, highly select gathering of music lovers had the rare opportunity to experience an evening of Art Song masterfully rendered by San Francisco Opera baritone, Eugene Villanueva and pianist John Churchwell. Beginning with the collection of Schubert’s songs, Der Wanderer, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, Abendstern and Auf der Bruch, singer and pianist brought us into the reality that Schubert is truly one of the greatest musical geniuses of human artistic achievement.
I would be remiss not to mention the artful tapestries John Churchwell wove into the musical fabric. I have never heard the now legendary Yamaha CFX concert grand sound better even when played by the expert soloists that Distinguished Artists has presented in recent years. With this instrument under his hands, Churchwell exquisitely captured the essence of swirling clouds, rippling brooks, rustling leaves and trudges on cold, snowy slopes. One is reminded of the mid-20th century legendary collaboration between baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and his “Unashamed Accompanist” of renown, Gerald Moore. Similarly, Villanueva and Churchwell performed with remarkable unity, as if in single breaths of heartfelt beauty and emotion.
As for the singing, Villanueva’s richly sonorous voice was sheer perfection. He has the technical ability to explore the seeming infinite range of tone colors needed to hold the enraptured attention of an audience for an entire recital. Further, he enhanced his effortless, silvery sound with subtle theatrical declamations that made every musical moment interesting, transporting and significant.
Anyone who did not attend this exquisite recital that offered the highest standard of what it means to be a singer and collaborative pianist, missed out on a performance worthy of the world’s most prestigious concert halls and rarely, if ever, heard in our small community. The performance included Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel, a collection of Italian favorites by Tosti, and an American Folk set by Steven Mark Kohn. Altogether it was an evening of captivating stories – stories of love, loneliness, nature, triumph and jubilation – set to exceptional music, magnificently performed.
Had the billing read Pavarotti or Carreras (were it at all possible), the place would have been packed. Villanueva and Churchwell’s talent, notwithstanding, was no less equivalent. Already at the top of their game, their careers are surely destined for greatness. The Distinguished Artists Concert & Lecture Series will next present the dynamic and electrifying Zofo Duet (Twenty Finger Orchestra) at Cabrillo College on March 21.