Baritone, pianist find a harmony of nature
By D.S. Crafts
For the Albuquerque Journal, October 11, 2009

As part of the Marilyn Horne “Wings of Song” vocal series, the Santa Fe Concert Association sponsored a recital by baritone Joshua Hopkins and pianist Jerod Mosbey on Tuesday night. Hopkins will be familiar to local audiences especially as Papageno — the Birdcatcher from the 2006 Santa Fe Opera production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” The program, with its theme of nature and landscape, featured music by Schumann, Ravel, Bowles and the Canadian composer Srul Irving Glick.
Hopkins, who makes his debut at the Metropolitan Opera later this season, sings with a dynamic, full-bodied sound capable of arresting outbursts tempered with an immaculate technique and the capability to convey subtle meanings in wide-ranging texts. While much of the recital was in English, he also chose works in French and German. Mosbey, too, with more than piano support (important enough in any song recital), brings an innate sense of form, color and musicality. Together the two create dynamic and sensitive music making.
Ravel’s Histoires naturelles (Natural Histories) was of course a “natural” for the theme of the evening. Though the poetry by Jules Renard is more anthropomorphic than “natural,” the animals in these poems come alive as eccentric characters full of human attributes. Hopkins was obviously enjoying the pointed and often humorous spirit of these works given with animated expression, as Mosbey sustained Ravel’s colorful and descriptive accompaniment — the boastful strutting of the peacock; the elegant, gliding strokes of the swan; and the sardonic humor of the guinea-fowl.
“South of North — Images of Canada” by Glick, which completed the first half, is a setting of some lovely pastoral landscapes, settings of poetry by Richard Outran, which Hopkins, himself a Canadian, sang with obvious fondness and fervency.
Surely the centerpiece of the recital was the Liederkreis (Song-Cycle), Op. 24, by Schumann. This lovely work is somewhat less often performed than his later Cycle, though I have always wondered why. Here is Schumann at his most tenderly and memorably melodic. The piece brought forth Hopkins’ most lyrical outpourings of the evening, traversing this intense inner narrative with an unmistakable sincerity. Schumann’s gorgeous piano part, from delicate syncopations to the hammering of a coffin-maker, gave Mosbey opportunity to explore a full range of pianistic expression.
The recital closed with “Blue Mountain Ballads,” settings of verse by Tennessee Williams, composed by Paul Bowles, known as much for his novels as his music. The four songs range from the bluesy-jazzy “Sugar in the Cane” to the more introspective “Heavenly Grass.”
For an encore Hopkins, speaking of his introduction to singing through musical theater, sang a selection from “Beauty and the Beast.”