Soprano Delivers Heartfelt, Varied Performance

Colin Roshak, Staff Writer

I’ve reviewed a fair number of concerts during my time at Oberlin, but not one has left me as inspired and touched as I was this past week. Soprano Anne Gross graduated from Oberlin Conservatory in 1986; since then, she has traveled and performed around the world. Pianist Thomas Bandy, an opera and vocal coach at the Conservatory, joined Gross to give the most riveting and intimate recital in recent memory.

The program was fairly standard; Gross sang five sets of four songs, each in a different language. Standard, however, did not mean unremarkable in this case. Gross began with a French set by Francis Poulenc. From the dramatic opening lines of the first song, Gross retained the audience’s unwavering attention, filling the hall with her infectious personality and warm tone. The translations of the text were appreciated but hardly necessary, as the drama of the music was clear from Gross’ effectual color changes and unrelenting musicality. The highest registers of the songs had a light, airy quality. Although Gross doesn’t have the most powerful voice, she balanced sensitively with the piano. After the first of the Poulenc songs came three more, each with a different character. The second was much more lively, while the third, “Air Graves,” had a melodramatic feel. The set concluded with a fleeting last song in which Gross demonstrated the remarkable flexibility and agility of her voice.

The next set of songs was by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Each of the four songs was lyrical and expressive with clear influences from folk music, which Grieg often incorporated into his music. Up to this point, Bandy had played well but with little subtlety and nuance. However, after hearing the intensity and expressiveness in Gross’ voice, it must have been impossible not to rise to meet her. In the second song, “Foraarsregn,” Bandy responded to Gross’ conviction by gently balancing long, floating piano lines against a very lyrical setting of the text.

The third set was a more contemporary English set by Jake Heggie. Gross is known for her wit and humor on stage, and both of those qualities shone here. The four songs, which were selections from a larger set titled Eve-Song, were filled with sensual imagery and a complex harmonic language. Gross acted the part flawlessly, bringing out the non-sequiturial humor and lighthearted moments in the music while maintaining excellent intonation. The set was a stark contrast to the two previous sets, which were more romantic. The music had moments that sounded as though they had been taken directly from a Broadway musical. Notable was Gross’ impeccable diction; it’s often difficult to understand operatic singers because of the technique required, but not a single word was lost throughout all four songs of the English set.

The last two sets moved along in a similar way. The audience was captivated, and Gross remained content to express the music through the transcendent beauty and clarity of her voice rather than with distasteful overacting. The final German set was especially eloquent. Gross never short-changed a phrase or missed an opportunity for expression. In a way, ending with the German was the perfect way to go. It was a heartfelt farewell.

Gross took advantage of the enthusiastic applause to treat the audience to a short and unforgettable encore. The encore was in English and contained personal shout-outs to Gross’ teachers during her time at Oberlin. The short piece was filled with humor and excellent acting, closing the evening with a performance as commanding and enjoyable as the rest of the concert.