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Music and Dance Reviews : Kimbrough Sings Korngold and Weill at Occidental

An entire evening of art songs by Kurt Weill and Erich Wolfgang Korngold demands the knack of a particular specialist.

For this Steven Kimbrough type of program, onstage in Thorne Hall at Occidental College Sunday night was, fortunately, Steven Kimbrough. Superbly partnered by pianist Dalton Baldwin, Kimbrough lavished the expertise of an experienced lieder singer on music not always capable of standing on its own merit.

The baritone’s still warm, appealing voice no longer possesses impeccable focus; the tone has lost much of its sheen, especially at the top, which only occasionally rings out freely.

But this singer knows his business. He spins long legato lines on mere threads of sound and makes every word count. Time and again his sensitive dynamic choices and persuasive way with texts ennobled the music.

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The ghosts of Wolf, Mahler and (primarily) Richard Strauss haunt Korngold’s songs, but “Wenn du schlafst” was a real discovery.

Weill’s German songs, more cerebral and less accessible than Korngold’s, are not as indebted to late Romanticism. Their more turgid, stentorian passages exposed the least pleasant aspect of Kimbrough’s vocalism, though even when wearied by high tessitura, he avoided hectoring and kept the line legato.

One fascination in Weill’s songs to some of Whitman’s Civil War poetry: the rhythm of “Oh Captain! My Captain!” Meant to be Dixie, 1860s, it emerges as Berlin, 1920s. Kimbrough’s singing of these was elegant, Baldwin’s accompaniment exemplary.

“Pierrots Tanzlied” from Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt,” with its sustained calls of “Zuruck,” each softer than the preceding, took the full measure of Kimbrough’s deep capacity for communication.

Though his voice rebelled at the Broadway belter approach needed for a selection of Weill/Alan Jay Lerner songs, Kimbrough’s encores--the brilliantly satiric “Apple Jack” from “Huck Finn,” an unfinished Weill/ Maxwell Anderson collaboration, and “I Mean to Say I Love You,” a Korngold/Oscar Hammerstein II ballad--alone were worth the price of admission.


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