Songs of love, lovingly sung

Times Staff Writer

WITH her recital Tuesday in the new Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager gave Orange County a third happy occasion to hear her. Los Angeles has had none.

Kirchschlager made a conquering Southland debut in Laguna Beach in 1997 and two years later sang at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. She was slated to appear in Los Angeles Opera's "Idomeneo" in 2004 but begged off, citing exhaustion after appearances in Salzburg.

Exhaustion is believable because she gives herself wholeheartedly to her singing.

The Tuesday program, again under the auspices of Orange County's Philharmonic Society, contained nothing from her new Sony Classics CD of Handel arias. It was a surprising mix of love songs -- Haydn writing in English, Grieg writing in German (typical of the times), the polymorphic Liszt writing in French and German, and Brahms sticking to his native German but laying perhaps the groundwork for Mahler.

Wearing a stylish long black silk dress, the svelte, curly-haired Kirchschlager was charming even when asking people to withhold applause until she finished a set (applause, she said, broke her and the audience's concentration) and later requesting them to stifle their coughs. (It didn't work.)

When she herself coughed and cleared her throat toward the end of the Liszt group, she laughed sheepishly, engagingly. Long before that, however, she had won over the audience.

In the opening set of four Haydn songs, Kirshschlager ranged from light, limpid humor in "The Mermaid's Song" to weighty darkness and poise in "She never told her love" from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night." She was in turn lovely, sad, coy and intense in Grieg's Six Songs.

Four Brahms and five Schubert lieder let her plumb deeper emotions, although Brahms' "In dem Schatten meiner Locken" ("In the shadow of my tresses") also brought out a sexy playfulness in the woman's deciding to let her drowsy lover sleep.

But it was the group of seven songs by Liszt that provided the widest expressive range -- sensuous longing in "Oh! Quand je dors" ("Oh! When I sleep"), fierce anger in "Vergiftet sind meine Lieder" ("Poisoned are my songs"), transcendence of self in nature in "Uber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh" ("Over all the peaks it is peaceful") and finally the narrative drama of "Die drei Zigeuner" ("The three Gypsies"), a vocal Hungarian Rhapsody.

It was the last that most overtly showcased pianist Malcolm Martineau, but throughout he had collaborated with great sensitivity and style.

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