Every year Folkets Hus och Parker and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music award a scholarship, named after soprano Jenny Lind, to a promising soprano. The award also comes with several performance opportunities, one of which is given as part of the annual Yerba Buena Gardens Festival (YGBF). This year’s awardee was the Swedish soprano Ylva Stenberg; and her one-hour recital, presented outdoors with no admission charge, began this afternoon at 12:30 p.m. She was accompanied at the piano by Allan Timofeitchik.
The program was an impressive interleaving of the familiar and the unfamiliar, including combining the two in one selection. That last was the song “Aime – moi!,” which Pauline Viardot wrote in 1848 by adding a vocal line to the second (in the key of D major) of Frédéric Chopin’s four Opus 33 mazurkas. In the absence of a text sheet, it was difficult to determine whether the words worked for or against Chopin’s rhetoric. However, there was clearly considered judgment behind how Viardot made this mazurka into a song; and Stenberg’s interpretation definitely captured Chopin’s spirit.
On the more unfamiliar side, chances are that the songs of Swedish composers Hugo Alfvén, Gösta Nystroem, and Gunnar de Frumerie were probably all “first contact” experiences; but for most of the audience that was probably just as true of the two songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. For that matter the same could be said of Timofeitchik’s solo performance of a nocturne by Ottorino Respighi, the third of a set of six pieces composed between 1903 and 1905. Where art song was involved, familiar ground only came into sight with the performance of three songs by Richard Strauss, “Die Nacht” (Opus 10, Number 3), “Morgen” (Opus 27, Number 4), and “Allerseelen” (Opus 10, Number 8). The last two of these are likely to be familiar to those who attend vocal recitals regularly, and those who know them would have recognized the sensitivity that Stenberg brought to her performance.
Equally familiar would have been her concluding with “Caro nome” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. She was perfectly comfortable with all of the virtuoso demands that Verdi imposed but also brought an understanding of Gilda’s perplexed state with a man she took (mistakenly) to be a poverty-stricken student. Less familiar was her opening with “O luce di quest’anima” from Gaetano Donizetti’s Linda di Chamonix. Here performance was more a matter of leaping through all of the virtuoso hoops, regardless of whether or not the underlying narrative was being properly signified.
It is also worth emphasizing, once again, the knowing sensitivity that Stenberg brought to her performance. Conditions in Yerba Buena Gardens were far from conducive to a song recital. Both a waterfall at one end of the space and jackhammers beyond the other did their best to undermine this free outdoor concert. However, for all of those hazards, the turnout was a good one; and it seemed as if just about everyone in the audience could focus on the music without worrying about the onslaught of distractions. Stenberg is likely to be a dynamite soprano when she is performing under more favorable conditions!