It could be said that in Sunday's nicely designed mixed recital program in Westminster Presbyterian Church, the tail wagged the dog. That's because it concluded with the Western Hemisphere premieres of three short songs.
The songs were written in 1919 by Marcel Tyberg, a long-forgotten composer who had an extremely promising future until he became a tragic Holocaust statistic when he was arrested in 1944 by the German Gestapo and never seen again.
All of Tyberg's compositions were assumed to have vanished with him, but through family connections they had been given for safekeeping to Dr. Enrico Mihich, a distinguished research scientist at Buffalo's Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
The performance by Lucinda Hohn and Elenora Seib of Tyberg's settings of three English texts represents the first fruits of Mihich's devoted efforts to bring Tyberg's compositions to the attention of the music world.
In "Evening Bells," set to a Sir Thomas More poem, the rapid exchange of right and left hand chords evoked the tolling of bells while the three stanzas of the poem were treated robustly, with a contrasting intimacy in the middle verse.
"To a Flower," a Barry Cornwell poem, treats in a simple lovelorn way the birth, growth and death of a single flower, a story well mirrored by the music, with gratifying harmonic developments in the supporting piano line.
Even simpler was Tyberg's setting of the Robert Burns poem "My Heart's in the Highlands." The lyric directness and openness of the vocal line was complemented by more complex piano flourishes to open and close, surrounding the text like parentheses, while the voice intones Burns' words in a heartfelt folk-like manner.
Conversations with Hohn showed she has studied these songs intently and is particularly sensitive in her understanding of the relationship of the roles of the voice and the piano.
The performances also revealed her intellectual mastery of the songs, but their expressive effect was diminished by the voice's lack of an adequate range of warmth or coloration. The ample power was used a bit too freely on occasion, and the broad, rather unfocused sound also resulted in muffled enunciation.
California-based composer Ron McFarland was on hand to hear his "Four Songs -- in Blue," some quite oddly structured and most impressive in the opening "Dreams." The andante from his violin sonata was an effectively contemplative piece, with contrasting passages of intensity, satisfyingly played by violinist Andrea Cone and Seib.
The violin and Hohn's voice also played gratifyingly off each other in two folk song settings by Ralph Vaughan Williams, while the opening of the recital featured works by Edward MacDowell, most memorably in Seib's performance of "Marionettes," Op. 38, with a declamatory prologue and more reflective epilogue framing six short character pieces with such titles as "Soubrette," "Witch," "Villain" and "Sweetheart."
"A Celebration of 20th Century Composers"
Sunday night in Westminster Presbyterian Church.