Traditional vocal recitals - songs by Schubert, Strauss, Debussy - are rare these days. A vocal recital devoted to contemporary Italian composers seems positively radical.
Needless to say, such a venture is not going to have people clamoring for seats even when admission is free. But the 16 attentive folks who checked out Duo Alterno's concert Wednesday evening at the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Fine Arts Studio, opening the 17th annual "End of the Edge Performance Series," were rewarded with dynamic performances of fascinating music.
Soprano Tiziana Scandaletti and pianist/composer Riccardo Piacentini explored the current Italian scene and vintage pieces by two giants of modern music. The older works from the 1940s provided fitting bookends to the program, since everything else performed reflected their influences.
Luigi Dallapiccola's "Tre poemi" (with texts by Joyce, Machado and Michelangelo), reveals how strangely alluring atonality can be, with wide-leaping, richly communicative vocal lines and a lush piano part. Luciano Berio's deliciously lyrical "Quattro canzoni popolari" is far removed from the more adventurous, challenging style that would characterize him later; it reaffirms how closely tied Italian music has always been to the human voice and to melody.
The material in-between strayed quite far at times from those borders, yet always remained grounded in the same basic expressive principles. Fabio Vacchi's 1995 "Mignon" (with a text by Goethe) has the singer jumping from high to low pitches with keen dramatic intent; the song's vaporous close is particularly effective. Alessandro Solbiati's "Holderlin Lieder," written this year and given its premiere here, aims for a similar darkness of sound and mood and exploits the voice even more strikingly.
Although Scandaletti's tone quality was often brittle and she couldn't always achieve the technical smoothness required, there was a telling sensitivity in her delivery, matched by Piancentini's thoughtful, accomplished pianism.
Ennio Morricone, best known for such film scores as "Cinema Paradiso," was represented by excerpts from his 1992 "Epitaffi sparsi." These short, stylistically eclectic epitaphs are packed with wit and kinetic energy, which the performers relished.
One of the most interesting offerings was Piacentini's "Fugitives" for voice alone, with texts by Baudelaire. The words flow in riveting, unpredictable bursts of speech, song, whispering and humming. Scandaletti revealed quite a flair for this sort of thing.
It came through even more theatrically in a wild a cappella piece by the late soprano Cathy Berberian that had the singer delivering snippets of "Sempre libera" from "La Traviata," radio weather reports, snores and imitations of gunfire.