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MUSIC REVIEW : Battle Gives Elegant Recital in Pasadena

Times Music Writer

By any measurement, Kathleen Battle is a major singer in the prime of her artistry. Her career spans the globe, but its principal bailiwicks are those corridors of power found in New York, London and Vienna/Salzburg. In these places, as everywhere, Battle can apparently do no wrong.

Wednesday night at Ambassador Auditorium, the much-recorded, frequently televised American soprano gave what can only be described as an uncharacteristically bland and uncommunicative recital. At no point did she threaten to lower her international musical status--but she did fail to move some listeners.

If she was out of sorts or in poor voice, such conditions were not apparent. In partnership with the redoubtable Martin Katz at the piano, Battle produced an elegant, if often underpowered and less than fully projected, performance.

Her mixed program began with the Baroque fireworks in Handel’s “Rejoice greatly,” from “Messiah”, and ended with four spirituals. In between, it offered four Lieder of Hugo Wolf, Debussy’s “Ariettes oubliees,” Juliet’s Waltz Song from Gounod’s opera and English-language items by Copland, Britten and Ives.

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But all the variety in this agenda, its actual breadth, did not materialize. Battle’s expressive range seemed on this occasion narrower, her full voice smaller, her bright sound less penetrating, than usual.

Smaller voices are customarily flattered by the rich acoustics of Ambassador Auditorium; this time, the ambiance did not seem to help. In the pre-intermission part of the program, Battle--who will be 40 in August--often flirted with inaudibility in the octave above Middle C; those several shades of soft-singing which can characterize her vocalism appeared reduced in number.

Nor were her words in these three languages as tellingly or distinctly enunciated as one remembers. In the Wolf group, for instance--which comprised “Schlafendes Jesuskind,” “Auch kleine Dinge,” “Das verlassene Magdlein” and “Er ist’s"--emotions became generalized, and the texts less than specific.

Of course, there was beautiful singing, enough to please an audience overflowing the hall--seats were added on the stage--and demanding of four encores.

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The “Messiah” excerpt had authority and ease, if less projected joy than one expects, and added high notes, up to and including a handsome High C. Juliet’s aria bubbled along. “Sally Gardens” emerged particularly lush. And, finally completely warmed up, Battle delivered full voice and much meaning in the spirituals.

Throughout, Katz proved again the model musical partner, coloring each item to its particular mood and thrust, providing structural integrity, connecting every musical thought in its progress.

The encores were Margaret Bonds’ arrangement of “He’s Got the Whole World (in His Hands)”; “Summertime”; Joplin’s “Real Slow Drag,” and Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro.”


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