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Hope Gilfry gets even better soon

Despite a cold that sometimes strained him, the baritone delivers a fine, full night of songs.

January 10, 2008|Michael Rydzynski | Special to The Times

A somewhat under-the-weather Rod Gilfry nonetheless gave a sterling art-song recital at the Irvine Barclay on Tuesday evening.

With smart, crisp accompaniment from Alan Smith, Gilfry performed songs and song cycles by Vaughan Williams, Debussy, Carlos Lopez-Buchardo, Respighi, Griffes and Ricky Ian Gordon. The Grammy-nominated baritone also offered two encores, by Schumann and Paolo Tosti, bringing the total number of songs to 29.

The Cal State Fullerton and USC alumnus was at his best -- but occasionally struggled -- in Vaughan Williams' "Songs of Travel" (1901-04), a 23-minute cycle of nine "vagabond" poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. He executed powerful passages with ease and authority, his tone neither forced nor strident. But although he handled softer phrases delicately, his lyricism did not consistently exude full warmth.

Gilfry began Debussy's "Trois Ballades de Francois Villon" (1910) a little too subdued -- the first ballad could have used more defiance. In the second song (a prayer), however, he displayed an almost hushed tone that yet allowed for impassioned phrasing. And supported by subtle "chatter" on Smith's part, he delightfully elicited the humor from the final song, a "salute" to Parisian women as the world's best talkers.

The recital opened with "Cinco Canciones Argentinas," a cycle by the Argentine Lopez-Buchardo. Although appearing a little ill at ease, Gilfry was by turns vibrant, wistful, sinewy, anguished and conversational.

With the Respighi songs, though, he first showed signs of discomfort in his throat, straining on a couple of notes. Still, his voice had a down-to-earth quality that overrode these difficulties.

In the Griffes selections, he started with a stentorian yet sprightly tone ("An Old Song Re-sung"), but his cold apparently caused a slight cutback in exuberance by the last song ("We'll to the Woods and Gather May").

Gilfry actually gained strength as he approached the end of the recital, finishing an ad hoc group of four Gordon songs with power to spare.

As this recital demonstrated, even a not-up-to-par Gilfry is better than some vocalists at full steam. He is next scheduled to sing in these parts as Papageno in Opera Pacific's "Magic Flute," and one hopes he'll be in finer form by then.

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