Santa Fe New Mexican

Pasatiempo, Oct. 16, 2009

DOUBLE DELIGHT by Craig Smith

This recital, co-presented by the Santa Fe Concert Association and the Marilyn Horne Foundation, was a treat from start to finish. The small audience was loudly appreciative as baritone Joshua Hopkins and pianist Jerad Mosbey hit one creative home run after the other – bap, zip, right out of the park.

Hopkins, who enjoys a fast-rising international career, sang Papageno in the Santa Fe Opera’s 2006 The Magic Flute and Momus in the 2007 Platée. He returns next summer to reprise Papageno and sing Sid in Britten’s Albert Herring. Mosbey is a University of Michigan graduate, where he studied under Martin Katz; like Hopkins, he participated in the Houston Grand Opera’s studio program for young artists.

Both showed chops in plenty, but their strong technique was clearly at the service of message. They didn’t try to achieve an impossible transcendence; they just told the stories through words, sounds, and drama. With performers like these, intensity and insight were assured.

Hopkins announced that he was just over a cold, but aside from a few rather unfocused, soft high notes, he sang resonantly, robustly and yet with sensitivity. His baritone has a deliciously vibrant, tight-coiled quality that makes it a pleasure to hear no matter the emotional context, and his French, German, and English diction was masterful without being mannered. He lived the concept of a man’s emotional journey through life and love unselfconsciously and handsomely. Mosbey played with the assurance that comes from bone-deep confidence, ringing the creative changes on the church’s fine grand piano.

Srul Irving Glick’s South of North – Images of Canada turned out to be a tuneful piece of landscape- and wildlife-painting, almost haiku-like in its directness and innate simplicity, though with moments of nature’s fury, too. Ravel’s Histoires naturelles, a series of animal portraits, was superbly done, with the various creatures in Jules Renard’s poetry sonically painted right before our eyes. The suspended-time view of a kingfisher that roosts on a fishing pole and the frantic guinea hen that struts insanely around the barnyard were especially telling, but the peacock, cricket, and swan were equally well portrayed.

The pair gave Schumann’s Liederkreis, op. 24 a reading that virtually defined the union of words and music. Heine and Schumann are a wonderful match here, and the journey of the speaking lover from joy to fear to hate to repulsion to regret and, finally, repose, was breathtaking. This was work of the highest order, lyric and passionate yet firmly guided.

The concert closed with a cycle that deserves to be better known and performed more often: Paul Bowles’ Blue Mountain Ballads to poems by Tennessee Williams, from which the song “Heavenly Grass” is most often performed. Hopkins sang his heart out, whether the music was soulful, saucy, rude, or rollicking, while Mosbey¹s playing portrayed everything from the fields of eternity to a down-home guy laughing into his red-eye gravy. The delightful encore was a chest-thumping tour de force, “Me” from the musical Beauty and the Beast.

Incidentally, Hopkins and Mosbey’s first CD, coming out in 2010 on the Canadian label ATMA Classique, will include the Bowles, the Glick, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, and three songs by Samuel Barber. Worth watching for.