Generously benefiting SongFest, the admirable, 8-year old training program for singers and pianists -- which moves temporarily to Pepperdine University this summer -- Rodney Gilfry and Martin Katz gave an estimable recital Sunday afternoon at the Skirball Center. It was the first pairing between this accomplished American baritone and the dean of American collaborative pianists.
The two musicians covered a broad repertory with ease, panache and exceptional rapport.
Given Gilfry's long and successful tenure on international opera stages, his ability to connect with an audience, to project words and meaning, and to make dramatic vignettes out of every song could not surprise. As a recitalist, he acts but never mugs, delivers emotions without artifice and savors words.
He was seconded and supported -- glorified, actually -- through Katz's unexaggerated pianism, in a program beginning with four Shakespeare songs by Henry Purcell, cresting on Robert Schumann's "Dichterliebe" cycle and Ravel's "Don Quichotte a Dulcinee," and ending joyously with four songs by Charles Ives and three by the Gershwins.
The dramatic flow of the 16 "Dichterliebe" songs was well delivered, the points of emotion pungently realized. The "Don Quichotte" songs emerged pristine and poetic, not blustery and shouted, as they can be. Purcell's songs made their points cogently; one wished only for the kind of clear English enunciation from Gilfry that he invested in the German and French languages.
Showing none of the "patchiness" that had been reported when he withdrew from "Eugene Onegin" at Santa Fe Opera in 2002, Gilfry seemed in healthy shape.
In the Ives and Gershwin songs, his command of an audience, through affectionate word delivery and a honeyed tone, was complete.