by Dan Rosenberg, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
March must be the appointed month for vocal recitals by major artists in Northeast Ohio. From last Friday through this Sunday, the region will have welcomed tenor Alek Shrader (Oberlin College), baritone Thomas Hampson (E.J. Thomas Hall) and sopranos Christine Brewer (Cleveland Institute of Music) and Deborah Voigt (Oberlin).
And there's another. In what can only be deemed a coup, the Art Song Festival at Baldwin Wallace University presented the first American recital by French baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer on Sunday in Gamble Auditorium. We are likely to hear a great deal more of this superb artist in coming years.
Crossley-Mercer -- of Irish-French extraction -- shared the stage with Russian pianist Semjon Skigin, whose collaborations were at all times sonorous and connected to the expressive demands in the program's German, English and French songs.
The pianist interacted closely with Crossley-Mercer, whose baritone is an instrument of lustrous individuality and suppleness. He is capable of scaling the voice down to a focused whisper or projecting with stentorian force. Words are paramount to Crossley-Mercer, as are inflections that heighten the drama in each song.
But these performances were no acts of imitation. Crossley-Mercer brought distinctive touches to the six odes to love and nature in Beethoven's "An die ferne geliebte,"altering vocal colors and employing physical gestures to enhance the moods.
In six songs by Brahms, Crossley-Mercer applied warmth to placid lines, dreamy nuances where the texts portray a blissful world and ecstatic potency to passages of amorous flight. Skigin's shapely partnership was key to the success of these performances, as they were when the musicians turned to afternoon's other fare.
Edwin Crossley-Mercer and Semjon Skigin perform "Autumn Leaves" ("Les feuilles mortes") :
Crossley-Mercer sang four selections from Vaughan Williams' "Songs of Travel" in crisply enunciated English that made reading the printed texts unnecessary. Turning to chansons by Faure, Debussy and Poulenc, he attained even higher levels of immediacy and idiomatic authority, especially in Debussy's "Chevaux de bois," whose carousel narrative emerged with a palpable sense of wonder and charm.
Those qualities also marked Crossley-Mercer's encores -- a debonair version of "C'est si bon" that would give Yves Montand and Dean Martin a run for their respective currencies, and "Les feuilles mortes" ("Autumn Leaves") sung in the silkiest French.
Crossley-Mercer. Remember the name. And to thank the Art Song Festival for the introduction.