Canadians at the Terrace Theater
Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 05:36PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • December 4, 2008

Brett Polegato

At the risk of stereotyping Canada (and who can resist?), it's fair to say that our neighbor to the north is not usually associated with the dark, demon-driven soul-searching of the romantic composers of 19th-century Germany. That notwithstanding, three fine young musicians from the Great White North descended upon the Terrace Theater on Tuesday for an evening of lieder that ranged from Brahms's sublime luminosity to Hugo Wolf's equally sublime anguish.

The Canadians in question were Susan Platts, a mezzo-soprano with a clear, dark voice and a polished but somewhat mannered style; Brett Polegato, a baritone with less polish but a more interesting brain; and their accompanist, the expressive Rena Sharon. After opening with a duet (Brahms's charming "Vergebliches Ständchen Op. 84 No. 4"), the two singers alternated onstage, Platts anchoring her end around Gustav Mahler's "Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen" and lighter works by Brahms and Clara Schumann.

Susan PlattsIt was a well-chosen program, allowing Platts to display her beautifully controlled mezzo across its considerable range. But for all her skill, it was rarely a gripping performance. Platts skated prettily over the music's depths rather than plunging headlong into them, and even Mahler's wrenching "Ich hab' ein gluhend Messer" (which opens with the cry "I have a red hot knife, a knife in my breast") seemed bloodless; passion pressed under shatterproof glass.

Polegato was a different story. While his singing was less secure than that of Platts (his diction, among other things, could use a little honing), his interpretations had far more natural vitality and power. Wolf's "Gesange des Harfners" was a fine essay in the dark shadows of the human heart, and Robert Schumann's eight-song "Liederkreis Op. 24," although not quite as involving, showed that Polegato is an artist to be reckoned with.

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