Over the course of six concerts, the 2017 Northwest Bach Festival presented a wide range of music employing a variety of instruments. Only one instrument was notably missing: the human voice. That gap was filled on Saturday night, as Barrister Winery was filled with song by soprano Danielle Talamantes, partnered by Ivana Cojbasic, pianist.
Talamantes selected a program of art songs, i.e. brief poems set to music, by Claude Debussy, Enrique Granados, and Joaquin Turina. She concluded the program with three songs by Duke Ellington, arranged in a manner to show how much they have in common with the art-song tradition.
Talamantes intended that the audience be given translations of all the songs on her program, but a glitch in transmission prevented that. Instead, she spoke with the audience, reading some translations in their entirety and summarizing others. By doing this, she immediately created a bond of intimacy that embraced everyone in the room, and that continued unbroken throughout the evening. In chatting with us, she displayed other attributes that proved fundamental to her character as a musician: superbly clear and beautiful diction, an attractive, well-supported voice, extensive understanding of the background and meaning of the music, and, perhaps most important, an earnest desire to seize the deepest feelings of her audience, and never let them go.
Accordingly, when she began to sing Debussy’s “Chansons de Bilitis,” one felt an unbroken link with what had gone before. The voice was just as lovely, natural and relaxed, and the diction just as clear and pure, always an important quality, but especially in the performance of French song. What we had not heard before, of course, was the playing of Cojbasic, which proved to be more than worthy to accompany Talamantes’ singing. All of the composers on the program were pianists who contributed much excellent music to the repertoire, but none had so radical an impact on the history of writing for the piano as Debussy, who reinvented piano technique and re-imagined what could be accomplished on the instrument. It is no mean praise to say, then, that Cojbasic showed herself to possess complete mastery of Debussy’s challenging writing, and to be an artist capable of unlocking his unique tone-world to an interested listener. On this occasion, the listeners were not merely interested, but spellbound.
The ensuing works on the program allowed Talamantes much wider scope in which to deploy her considerable vocal resources than did the delicately tinted Debussy. Her soprano voice possesses considerable power throughout its wide range. It is the sort of voice capable of taking on the most demanding roles of Giuseppe Verdi and of operatic composers of the “verismo” school, such as Pietro Mascagni (“Cavalleria Rusticana”), Ruggero Leoncavallo (“I Pagliacci”) and Umberto Giordano (“Andrea Chenier”). It was thrilling to hear a voice of this range and caliber interpreting art-song, and, in truth, there was plenty of passion and suffering portrayed in the songs of Granados and Turina that justified an operatic scale of performance. There were, however, a few points at which Talamantes unleashed the full force of her voice that pushed the envelope so far that it threatened to tear.
It was gratifying to see three wonderful Ellington songs receive the respect and loving attention they did on Saturday night: “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Solitude” and “Come Sunday.” Talamantes proved herself to be a compelling and idiomatic interpreter of music in the popular idiom, something that cannot be said of all of her illustrious predecessors who attempted the journey from the opera house to the cabaret. It should be noted, however, that Ellington wrote the first two songs to be danced to, which would require a clear and regular beat. The arrangements of these numbers are so artfully worked, however, that the beat can get lost, and with it, some of the music’s power to touch the heart.
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