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Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, In Fine Form

By Tim Page

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, March 7, 2005; Page C05

Isabel Bayrakdarian has a high, bright soprano voice that she employs with a lithe and winning energy; her Friday night recital at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, sponsored by the Vocal Arts Society, had much to commend it.

The Armenian Canadian’s program began with Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Popular Spanish Songs” — a favorite offering of the late Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles, who died earlier this year. Bayrakdarian brought a nice variety of mood to these simple, sturdy pieces: “Jota” stole the show, as it usually does, with its exciting reiterations that ebb and flow in volume and intensity as the song progresses.

Samuel Barber assembled his “Hermit Songs” from poems, diary entries and marginalia dating from the 8th through the 13th centuries. Bayrakdarian sang with a minimum of vibrato (indeed, at times her voice sounded almost boyish, befitting the monastic origin of the texts) and a keen attention to emotional nuance. Barber was not necessarily a great composer, but he was, most likely, the most immaculate of American musical craftsmen. Every note in his work is there for a reason, and some of the “Hermit Songs” have the concentrated intensity of haiku. Bayrakdarian managed to give each song its individual due, while working it into a larger totality.

A selection of songs by Rossini (including the familiar “La Danza”) followed intermission and — for this listener, at least — provided the evening’s greatest pleasures. The music is wonderful — warm, inventive, full of humor and pathos — and Bayrakdarian gave it her all, with teasing wit and expansive lyricism.

Thereafter, the evening’s uncommonly sensitive pianist, Warren Jones, played a selection from Liszt’s “Annees de Pelerinage.” Jones has exactly the right approach for Liszt, who can so easily sound windy, rhetorical and pretentious. Instead, Jones simply sat down and let the music happen, as if he were relaying an anecdote in the most direct and straightforward language. Rarely has this composer seemed so friendly and confidential.

Bayrakdarian then took the stage to close the evening with a selection of four songs by Tchaikovsky — beautiful music, sung with abundant feeling. My only general complaint about her work on Friday would be that she seemed to overcompensate for a voice that is not naturally very large by singing quite loudly — too loudly, on occasion, for the intimacy of the Terrace Theater. Still, she is an artist and deserves her following.

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