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Music Reviews : Friesen In Recital At Morgan-wixson

July 24, 1987|DONNA PERLMUTTER

His manner may be plain to the point of awkwardness, but something about baritone Milton Friesen's sensibility for Lieder shone through, Wednesday, when the Californian sang a recital on the Pacific Serenades series at the little Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica.

Indeed, everything about Friesen's physical demeanor suggested modest experience, such as that he received with regional opera companies in Fresno and Harrisburg, Pa. Just as evident, however, was the influence of a master like Gerard Souzay, who coached him.

But, at his very best, the baritone with the warm, buttery sound did not have to remember lessons well learned or be hampered by limited opportunities. For when he ventured the profundities of Strauss and Alban Berg--with the informed support of pianist Laraine Stivers--his art transcended good musical grooming.

An ability to convey palpable intimacy, for instance, characterized a group of five Strauss songs. For "Nacht," he produced pure, soft head tones. And in "Morgen," especially, he seemed to approach a state of ecstasy--one all the more remarkable considering his clumsy stance.

Berg's Four Songs found Friesen applying darker vocal facets to get across the contrasts that ranged from depressive torpor to vehement terror.

What he made of a Faure group was more generalized, however, and not nearly so engaging. But the baritone aptly took up the cause of Mark Carlson, artistic director of Pacific Serenade and a UCLA faculty member, singing the premiere of Carlson's "This Is the Garden." Vocally grateful settings of three e.e. cummings poems, they exult in a high-blown romanticism, which Friesen delivered in proper spirit.

He closed this program with five quietly ironic and casually wistful songs by Charles Ives, missing slightly their dramatic crux.

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