Sunday, March 08, 2009

Heidi Melton sings Harawi

Old First Concerts
Old First Presbyterian Church
Sunday, March 8, 2009 At 2:30pm

Heidi Melton sings
Harawi by Olivier Messiaen

Heidi Melton, soprano; John Parr, piano

I was here not so much for the unusual repertoire but for another chance to hear Heidi's wonderful voice. A lady from Old First Concerts introduced the program, then Mr. Parr came out & spoke for a few minutes. He noted the rarity of performances of this work & the work's technical difficulty. He also said that Messiaen intended it to be sung by a dramatic soprano. The program notes cite Peruvian folklore & Wagner's Tristan as inspirations, though mostly I heard Messiaen's characteristic eerie harmonies & plenty of bird songs.

Expectations were high, & Heidi received enthusiastic applause when she stepped on the stage. Her thick, substantial sound was a physical pleasure to listen to, especially when her high notes rang out in that church acoustic. There was a definitely an emphasis on even, careful & beautiful singing. I liked the little repetitions of "Doudou Tchil" that evolved from little sips of sound to half-speaking to full singing. Often high notes come out of nowhere, & Heidi tackled these fearlessly.

The cycle is very abstract. On this initial hearing, I did not discern a story arc. Clearly L'escalier redit, gestes du soleil is a climax, & Heidi closed the cycle with a distant pianissimo that died away to nothing. But there is also a lot of ritualistic repetition that I found static. The text has an element of eroticism that I'm not sure came across fully in this interpretation, which was a bit contained. Ms. Melton maintained a serious demeanor throughout but reverted to her usual happy smile immediately at the end. She received a prolonged ovation & was recalled 3 times for bows.

About 80 of us attended this short but ample program, lasting no more than an hour. We were all pretty much rapt the whole time. Ms. Melton deserved a bigger audience. I recognized Adler Fellow Ji Young Yang in the pews. She will be performing in this series on May 15th, along with trumpeter Adam Luftman, whom I just heard Thursday night.

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