Pianist Lucy Faridany & Baritone Peter Tuff
Baritone Peter Tuff and pianist Lucy Faridany performed a recital on Wednesday, August 9, 2017, at 7:30 pm at All Saints’ Church in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The program featured Robert Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. Both Tuff and Faridany are well-known locally for their respective contributions to the performing arts here, and the recital was not the first time Monterey Peninsula audiences have heard them perform together. Their past collaborations here have included recitals of opera, art song, and musical theater selections.
Based on a collection of poems written by Heinrich Heine in 1823, Schumann cast this series of short verses, the central theme of which expresses the joys and sorrows of love, into sixteen songs which Schumann himself termed a ‘cycle’ (as opposed to a circle or row). The themes of these brief poems cover a range of emotions expressing the happiness felt by new love, to then rejection, sorrow, reconciliation, and forgiveness. The entire work is a personal account of a journey through the many emotional phases of love. The role of the piano in the Dichterliebe cycle remains very close to the changing moods of the text, although Schumann’s skillful writing for the piano nearly evolves into independent melodic entities themselves. In fact, Dichterliebe has been described as “a duet for voice and piano” because of the prominent and unique role of the piano part, distinguishing it from other song cycles.
A few specific songs stand out in the cycle. Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen/A boy loves a girl showed off Tuff’s fine German diction as he emoted a good telling of the story. Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen/On a shining summer morning, a contrast in tone and energy from previous the piece, the piano is full of descending arpeggios that evoke the walk in the garden. Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet/I cried in my dreams starts on a single note, the sparse and at times silence-filled accompaniment was poignant. The strophic, Allnächtlich im Traume seh’ ich dich/All night I see you in my dreams was then more episodically legato in both the vocal and piano lines. Aus alten Märchen winkt es/A white hand beckons was march-like, and is as close as we get to cheerful. At the end, we must leave the dream, back to the disappointment of reality, however, the ending piano tag briefly reminds us of the cheerful dream.
The Songs of Travel is a setting of poems written by the Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson, whose brief three-month sojourn in Monterey County is well-known. The songs reflect the joys, sorrows, loves, and losses of the wanderer-traveler. Set by Vaughan Williams between 1901 and 1904, the original “Songs of Travel and Other Verses” source material from RLS, published in 1896, consists, surprisingly, of a set of 44 poems; another trove into which to explore.
The Songs of Travel set started off elegantly! With brilliant predictable march passages, skilled crescendos and easy dynamic variation, this vagabond stuff is perfect Tuff-ian repertoire. The Vagabond introduces the age-old theme of the wanderer, the mountain man, the unfettered man, the free man. In 4/4 meter and marked Allegro moderato (alla marcia) in the voice, and sempre pesante il basso in the piano, it starts with a distinctive heavy staccato march rhythm, giving us a foretaste of the dotted triplet figures in the voice soon to come, we can see his determined gait down the byway as he describes life on the open road, the first stanza culminating in his booming declaration, “There’s the life for a man like me,” with a degree of finality on the descending 7th “There’s the life for ever.” The second verse codifies his mindset with the striking, simple yet powerful line, “Let the blow fall soon or late, Let what will be o’er me.” He seeks not wealth nor hope nor love nor a friend, only the heaven above and the road below him. But what if the heaven above is not simply the sky, and the road below is not literal – could these be analogous to death, his wish for either heaven or hell? Let the blow fall soon or late, let what will be o’er me has new meaning…
Right from the first notes of the concert we observed baritone Peter Tuff at the top of his form. As a master of his craft he used the power and expression of his voice, his dramatic skills and his clear immaculate diction in the service of vocal story telling. There is a simplicity and naturalness in Tuff’s music making — every sound, every phrase, every gesture seemed natural and appropriate to the music. There was no artifice and there was no exploiting the music for personal affect. It was always the music that was important, and the result was an impressive demonstration of how music can absorb our attention and involve us personally.
Pianist Faridany also exhibited the same straight forward devotion to the music. Her playing seemed effortless, yet never glib. She created many levels of magic in her control of colors, dynamics and the shaping of phrases. When the music demanded technical mastery, it was all there, and as I said, she made everything look very easy (which it certainly isn’t). She exhibits a natural grace at the piano, and her skills as an equal partner truly enhanced this recital.
And what would such a song recital be without an encore? Yes, it was I who shouted “Encore!” and the duo so very obligingly obliged. The perennial first-year vocal student favorite, “Silent Noon,” also by Vaughan Williams, is beautiful and tear-evoking when done by a man of life and music and travel and love.
The power of the poetry of Heinrich Heine and Robert Louis Stevenson skillfully married to expressive music, such as we heard in this fine recital, suggests to us that there is not enough poetry in our modern day lives. The men and women of the romantic era often turned to poetry to express how they felt, to put inexplicable sensations of mind and heart into relatable correlations, and as an outlet to define experience and individual realizations with a depth of understanding. The aesthetic deficit in society today is the lack of exposure to daily beauty, the soulless pastimes of spending too much time in traffic, in office buildings, in strip malls, watching television, being caught up in sensationalistic news cycles, in vapid conversation. When Heine’s poetry emerged in 1823, and Stevenson’s in 1896, those who were literate eagerly anticipated the publication of volumes of poetry, stories, novels, premieres of musical pieces, plays, operas. They read, shared and discussed such things. Serialized novels in newspapers and magazines were the soap operas of the day, and forced the average person to use their imagination.
We can elevate our lives through more exposure to poetry and fine literature and music, and expose the children we know to such things. Bored children are the result of bored parents. Ask a grandparent what poetry they were exposed to during their childhood and teen years. Who were the household names in the literary world? Were they required to memorize and recite verse in school? The answers to these questions draw the dividing line between the generations. Why is being versed in pop culture more important than being able to hold your head high knowing something about literature and poetry and music? It is our responsibility to educate the young people in our lives about great poetry, so that they will have the capacity to go to recitals like this in the far future, and be moved, because anything less allows children to be hollow, rewards boredom, and is a disservice to their emotional and psychological development; the tragedy is if one doesn’t take children to concerts, or read them poetry, they will never know what they are missing.