Pianist Gilbert Kalish, left, and baritone singer Randal Scarlata, right, presented “Triumph and Tragedy: Songs from Schubert’s Final Year” at the Staller Center on Wednesday, Nov. 6. Scarlata and Kalish were nominated together for a 2018 Grammy award for Best Classical Solo Album for the recording of their performance of Schubert’s “Die Winterreise.” ALEK LEWIS/THE STATESMAN

Baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Gilbert Kalish presented “Triumph and Tragedy: Songs from Schubert’s Final Year” at the Staller Center for the Arts Recital Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 6.

Scarlata, a former faculty member of Stony Brook University (SBU) and baritone singer, was accompanied by Kalish, SBU’s leading piano professor and head of performance faculty, as they performed the songs written by Austrian classical composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) in the last two years of his life. Both accomplished musicians, Scarlata and Kalish were nominated together for a 2018 Grammy award for Best Classical Solo Album for the recording of their performance of Schubert’s “Die Winterreise.”

Some songs performed include “Sehnsucht,” “Ständchen,” “Der Winterabend,” “Abschied” and “Die Taubenpost,” his last composition. All of these songs were composed with the lyrical poets at Schubert’s time in mind: Johann Gabriel Seidl, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. The performers mentioned that Schubert wanted to write for the opera, and this performance definitively showcased his talent for setting lyrical poems to music.

The concert was performed in German, a language that I do not know; thankfully, the program provided the lyrics to the songs, so it would be easier to understand what Scarlata was singing. I felt like looking for the lyrics in my program was distracting from the performance, so I was caught with a dilemma: should I focus my attention on the performers or on a piece of paper?

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once expressed the opinion that “music is the universal language of mankind.” I felt that a viewer would gain the most enjoyment out of the performance by focusing the attention towards the performer’s physicality and emotion instead of trying to translate a language that one does not understand; I am extremely glad I made this choice because it accentuated the quality of the performance and escalated the amount of emotion the performers attempted to convey to the audience.

Scarlata does not simply sing; he performs, he acts and becomes a poet. His baritone voice bleeds deep masculine qualities as he expresses a wide range of intense performance qualities and emotions through conveying Schubert’s music that includes anger, power, passion, vulnerability and joy. Scarlata’s impeccable vocal control makes complete and articulate phrases that blend together naturally; he hits the highest highs and lowest lows both musically and emotionally. Scarlata’s face is as much of an instrument in this performance as his voice since his expressions escalate the dramatic aspects of the music in ways that make this a performance not just a necessity to hear, but a necessity to watch. 

On the piano, Kalish shows the reason why he is the leading piano professor at SBU. He plays with incredible precision and technical skill, controlling the dynamic quality of the music and picking up the lead  when the vocals dwindle down. Kalish’s Steinway piano and Scarlata’s vocals trade the leading role in Schubert’s beautiful melodies.

Kalish’s and Scarlata’s chemistry is undeniably clear with every song they play and you never doubt for a second why these two have been Grammy-nominated for their performance of Schubert’s work. The performance was incredibly entertaining and impressive for anyone who enjoys classical and lyrical music. Even for someone like myself, who doesn’t know a word in German, their performance is able to still astound, entertain and communicate the deep sentimental qualities of Schubert’s lyrical compositions.

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