A Alexander Hurd's well-chosen recital of Germanic art songs showcased the progression of lieder from the Romantic era of the 19th century on up through the mid-20th century. The program contained a number of classics within the genre in addition to some important scores that don't get heard all that often.
Hurd and Alison d'Amato, his accompanist for the evening, are both faculty members at the University at Buffalo, and their performances reflected well upon the institution. Hurd's baritone is light enough that it can cross over into tenor territory upon occasion, while d'Amato proved to be the very model of a talented sidekick, playing difficult passages with seeming ease but never overshadowing her partner.
If there were any drawbacks to the concert, they were mostly in the early part of the recital, where it seemed that Hurd internalized the emotions of the lyrics to the songs and didn't really let them out in a physical sense. There was technique but little heat; he was outwardly relaxed, but, for the most part, Hurd didn't "sell" the material from a staging standpoint.
This lack of externalization was more cosmetic than anything else, and if you had closed your eyes while he was singing you would never notice that lack of physicality. As the evening wore on, however, there were signs of life to go along with the singer's artful vocals. His glee when singing the lyrics to Hugo Wolf's "Abschied (Farewell)," where a critic ends up with a kick in the pants, propelling him down the stairs, was subtle but palpable.
Other gems included Hurd's treatment of Franz Schubert's disturbing setting of Goethe's poem "Erlkonig," where a father's ill-fated fight and flight to save his son from the Erl King was ably abetted by d'Amato's fluid and striking pianism.
After the intermission, the program dealt with lesser-known material by Alexander von Zemlinsky, Hanns Eisler and Gustav Mahler. From the quartet of Zemlinsky items on the schedule, the setting of Goethe's "Elfenlied" was an arresting blend of singer and accompanist, as was "Das bucklichte Mannlein (The Little Hunchback)," drawn from "Das Knaben Wunderhorn," the same collection of folk material that provided texts for the fine trio of songs by Mahler that closed out the recital.
The Eisler songs were drawn, for the most part, from his stay in America during the 1940s. These were all brief, tightly formatted works with exquisite turns of phrase. Berthold Brecht's "Der Kirschdieb (The Cherry Thief)" was probably the least acidic of the five lyric settings.
WHO: Alexander Hurd
WHEN: Thursday night
WHERE: Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus, Amherst