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Music Reviews : Sarah Walker In Recital At Uci

May 06, 1987|JOHN VOLAND

It was a supremely controlled yet rather undisciplined program that British mezzo-soprano Sarah Walker and pianist Roger Vignoles brought to the Fine Arts Village Theatre at the University of California, Irvine, on Monday night.

Contradiction in terms? Hardly. Having already appeared at the Royal Opera House in London and the Vienna Staatsoper, Walker possesses a highly flexible middleweight voice that can seemingly do anything well, and Vignoles is blessed with almost all of the compleat accompanist's gifts.

Yet the program itself was overbalanced with extramusical baggage and middlebrowisms of an annoying sort, so that even a fine performance of Schumann's "Frauenliebe und Leben" was forgotten among the fripperies.

Monday's recital was tagged "Abandoned Heroines and Femmes Fatales"--a moniker that applied to only some of the program. In the first half, Haydn's Italianate go at the Ariadne legend ("Arianna a Naxos") was seamlessly delivered by Walker, with admirably long lines and telling characterizations.

The aforementioned Schumann cycle was a true highlight. Though the day when "Frauenliebe" was a staple item is long gone, the performance on Monday was nevertheless ravishingly sung yet understatedly expressed.

The Liszt group that followed intermission was also imbued with Walker's great musicality and wit, and Vignoles was well up to the considerable challenges in the piano parts.

But with the group of Anglo-American ditties that closed the program--tunes by Noel Coward, George and Ira Gershwin and others--expression and intent were lost in sludge.

No denying the songs were well sung and obviously well received, and they showed Walker's wide expressive range. But they completely upset the flow of the evening, and to encore with three more even less substantial lyric wisps left a very bad taste in the mouth indeed.

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