Allegro Tuesday, Nov. 12, The Met
David Dutton stood on The Met’s stage Tuesday night and lamented the lack of solo oboe literature from the Romantic period. He mentioned that, although there was much beautiful writing for the oboe in the orchestral repertoire in the same period, composers of this era put their solo emotional efforts into songs. Thus deprived, Dutton said, “It is with not much shame that I steal these songs.”
Dutton, who with Beverly Biggs, directs Allegro’s period music concert series, has plumbed the depths of the Baroque and Classical catalogs for double-reed music and occasionally wanders as far as the 20th century. Tuesday’s program roamed through Romantic territory, taking the path illuminated by song cycles.
Some songs work better than others when stripped of their words. Even without understanding the language and musical text painting, words offer a variable texture of their own and become a vehicle for the performer. When given over to a solo instrument, let’s say the oboe, this variety of sounds and articulations is more limited.
Grieg’s “Haugtussa” was the least enchanting transcription of the evening. The stark and melancholy landscape that Grieg portrays was pretty enough but so plain and lacking in ornament that there was no resting place for the ear.
The other two purloined sets worked much better. The English horn lent the right touch to Manuel de Falla’s “Popular Spanish Songs.” Its throaty tone, especially in the upper register, gave the songs a husky vocal quality. The accompaniment helped with perspective and depth by offering up thick, crashing chords, sonic shimmering and guitar licks.
Plenty of change and variety made Dvorak’s “Gypsy Songs” a success as well. The jaunty, strutting, rustic dances and deeply pretty hymnlike melodies sustained enough energy that the voice and the words were not missed.
Glenn Jacobson, the guest pianist who provided accompaniment for the evening, was fast, light and clear. He and Dutton pushed each other to sensitive extremes throughout the program, refusing to just honk through any phrases. Jacobson made even furious flurries of notes seem easy, sweeping through the tough stuff in the de Falla without calling attention to the effort.
Jacobson took a turn in the spotlight with some Chopin - three planned and one encore. His light touch was evident here as well. No matter what the speed, no keys were glossed over and no notes slighted.
Soprano Darnelle Preston joined Dutton and Jacobson for the evening’s only songs with words. Three Bourees from Joseph Cantaloube’s “Songs of the Auvergne” gave the audience a reminder of what singers can do with this material when it is not stolen.
Preston sailed through the Auvergnese dialect accurately and with power, while Dutton and Jacobson hinted at shepherd’s pipes and guitars, putting the needle high on the charm meter.