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A Subtle but Effective Night of Schubert

August 19, 1996|DANIEL CARIAGA

The intricacies and subtleties in Schubert's great song-cycle, "Die schone Mullerin," are best revealed in an intimate room bordered by four walls. That said, one still had to admire Jonathan Mack's authoritative and probing performance, presented in the semi-outdoors Saturday night.

Assisted solidly by pianist Vicki Ray, Mack closed a third summer season by the growing Southwest Chamber Music Society in the Loggia of the Huntington Art Gallery in San Marino.

The room is exactly what its name describes: a roofed gallery projecting out from the main building, open to the outdoors on three sides. Not coincidentally, its east view can offer one of the more spectacular of bucolic vistas to be found in Southern California.

Artistically, these environs proved suitable to this project.

Tenor Mack, who has been essaying this cycle with different pianistic partners for the better part of a decade, now commands its pacing and detailing strongly. He uses his voice--light but expressive--tellingly, chooses his text-climaxes with care and modulates musical dynamics in an arc of understanding.

At the beginning, one feared he had not warmed up sufficiently, so carefully did he indicate the first three songs; later, one realized that this introductory material served as a setup for the higher points to come. Singer and pianist began their genuine ascent of the narrative with "Am Feierabend"; the peaks in the final half of the cycle had been prepared.

On the way to those emotional points, many details contributed to the accumulation of feeling. When the moments of heartbreak arrived, in "Die bose Farbe" and, especially, at the end of "Trock'ne Blumen," those moments spoke directly to the listener.

To their admirable credit, and through technical expertise and strong planning, Mack and Ray distracted not at all; they became the vessels of the experience. They let Schubert have his say.

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