With the sound and moodiness of Brahms' "A German Requiem" still haunting my ears, I headed from Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Sunday evening to seek a contrast from the Shriver Hall Concert Series. That's what I got, along with a good deal of pleasure.
Nicole Cabell, the American soprano who won the 2005 BBC Singer of the World Competition, chose an admirably fresh program for the occasion, accompanied by pianist Susan Tang.
You might expect German to show up on a vocal recital, but not necessarily in the form of Dvorak's "Gypsy Songs." You might expect French, too, but not necessarily Ravel's "Five Greek Folk Songs." And when it came something Spanish, Cabell did not go the more usual route of, say, de Falla, and chose a selection of pieces by Cataln composer Fernando Obradors.
This folksy European sampling suited Cabell's vibrant personality perfectly. She brought plenty of spirit to the Dvorak songs, having fun with the energetic items and lavishing her radiant tone on the melancholy "Rings ist der Wald" and "Als die alte Mutter."
There were gorgeous, firmly supported sounds as well in the Obradors songs, matched in "Del cabello mas sutil" and "La mi sola, Laureola" with phrasing of particular tenderness. Ravel's brilliantly crafted gems found the soprano attentive to text and melodic contour, while Tang's assured playing sparkled (a softer touch from would have been welcome here and there).
The second half of the program opened with a vivid song cycle from the 1990s by Ricky Ian Gordon, with poetry by Langston Hughes.
If the composer settles into a faceless style at times (and repeats verses too often), he also finds a telling way to treat many the texts. A notable example is "Prayer," with its emotional, descending motive; that song found Cabell in especially expressive form.
The soprano closed with a selection of priceless spirituals. Her rapt delivery of "My Lord What a Morning" would alone have made the recital memorable. Cabell capped the evening with Gershwin's "Summertime," expertly phrased, as an encore.
The only disappointment was the turnout. The Shriver Hall crowd has long resisted vocal recitals. That unfortunate — to me, inexplicable — resistance continues.