For The Oberlin Review:
English, German, Italian, gibberish: Associate Professor of Singing Timothy LeFebvre can do them all. In a wide-ranging, Jan. 31 recital accompanied by Professor of Instrumental Accompanying James Howsmon on piano in Warner Concert Hall, he demonstrated his facility with all these languages as well as his prodigious voice and sensitivity to text.
LeFebvre’s voice is like your father’s strong, comforting hand tucking you into bed as a child. It has a substantial weight behind it and the capacity for great power, but the strength is comforting rather than intimidating. The first half of the program demonstrated that quiet potency especially well. Handel’s arias “Where’er you walk,” from the opera Semele, and “Frondi tenere… Ombra mai fù,” from the opera Serse, are simple expressions of adulation that allowed the audience to immerse themselves in the deep pool of LeFebvre’s voice. A storm then clouded the scene in “Del minacciar del vento,” from Handel’s opera Ottone. LeFebvre unleashed his massive tone and technique in angrily defiant runs, unflinchingly doubled by Howsmon.
An die ferne Geliebte, Beethoven’s only song cycle, returned to the placidity of the earlier Handel arias. The text consists of the sighs of a lover lamenting the distance between himself and his beloved. Natural imagery saturates the lover’s songs, as he entreats the clouds to greet his lady and rejoices in the renewing power of spring. One would expect a melancholy, melodramatic setting of such poetry, but the music is instead carefree and pastoral. Shadows occasionally darken the scene as the poet despairs of a reunion with his lover, but pass as quickly as they appeared. LeFebvre tenderly crooned the songs, at times playfully romping through the green fields and flowing rivers conjured by Howsmon’s bright touch. The cycle ends with a serene declaration that “these songs reclaim all that was separated by lonely hours, and a loving heart attains what a loving heart has earned,” a sweet highlight of the night.
After the intermission, LeFebvre moved into more dramatic repertoire. A set of five songs by Ottorino Respighi, with their operatic scale and luscious harmonies, allowed him to release the brunt of his voice. “Ballata” and “Nebbie” were anguished cries of loneliness, the latter especially powerful with its doomy imagery proclaimed by LeFebvre’s booming voice. The simple “Stornellatrice” harkened back to the light Italian art song of an earlier era, and LeFebvre appropriately adopted a more delicate, lyric tone. Rich chords from Howsmon perfumed the caressing “Notte.” And LeFebvre was dashingly charming in “Invito alla danza.”
The program ended with some good old Americana, in the form of selections from Copland’s Old American Songs. These are arrangements of folk tunes, and maintain their rustic appeal despite flashy touches added by Copland. LeFebvre’s barrel-chested bellows in “The Boatmen’s Dance” elicited rollicking music on the piano that wouldn’t sound out of place in Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat. The exquisite “Simple Gifts,” popularized by Copland’s use of it in his ballet Appalachian Spring, called to mind images of a white-washed country church, while “At the River” was majestic. Finally, that aforementioned gibberish showed up in the galloping “Ching-a-ring Chaw.”
LeFebvre and Howsmon returned for one encore, Erich Korngold’s “Tanzlied des Pierrot” from his opera Die Tote Stadt. LeFebvre showed off his impressive upper range in beautiful melodies steeped in unabashed romance. The aria provided one more welcome opportunity to bask in the warm embrace of LeFebvre’s voice.