Music is a medium for communicating emotions to the listener. It is, however, a rare musician who remembers this and puts the emotion over the many technicalities involved in singing or playing a piece “correctly.” This Sunday in the Timken Room in Graves Hall, tenor Allen Combs, accompanied by Instructor in Music Christopher Walter on the piano, attempted to put technicalities aside and transmit emotion through his music. He was clearly successful. Even in pieces that were sung in a foreign language, the feelings were clear, and the music was beautiful. The first piece, “Four Songs of Mizra Schaffy,” offered a range of strong emotions. Although the first movement, “Lean, Opening Blossom, Down Towards Me,” was sung in German, Combs drew the audience in by singing tenderly with his eyes closed and face raised towards the heavens. Seeming to draw power from the quiet dissonance of “Where’er the Sun Doth Glow,” Combs began rocking onto his toes at climatic points, thereby allowing the audience to not only hear, but also see the swells in the music. In the third section, “I Feel Thy Soul’s Dear Presence,” Combs, now completely warmed up, demonstrated his vocal versatility by hitting notes at the extreme ends of the tenor range. Finally moving into the middle of Combs’ range, the last movement “The Dazzling Sun is Glistening,” was the first happy, carefree section of the afternoon. “Mirages,” a French piece by Gabriel Faure, followed the upbeat movement. It began with the sad yet tender, “Swan on the Water,” which although sung with a dark undertone had a final, hopeful chord. The chord seemed to be ironic, especially followed by the second section, “Reflections on the Water.” Combs sang with a sad and tormented tone, eventually building to the small yet startling a cappella section that ended the movement. Tormented trouble was quickly replaced by gentle joy in “Garden of the Night,” which allowed the audience to breath easily in the more relaxed atmosphere, without worrying about the problems of the first and second sections. However, this peace came to an abrupt end as Comb’s began to sing the final movement, “Dancer,” with an urgency that had not been present in any of the previous sections. Rounding out with a long, high trill, this piece provided listeners with a torrent of beautiful notes and emotions. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching piece in Combs’ recital was the Russian piece, “Where Are You Little Star?” by Modes Mussorgsky. Singing with a mixture of sadness and anger about lost innocence, Combs swayed with the music as though lost in the world of the little star. Comparatively uneventful, “To the Children” by Sergei Rakhmaninoff and “From Gafiza” by Aleksandr Glazunoff served as a break from the emotional turmoil of the previous pieces, and rounded out the first half of the concert. The Norwegian “Reminiscences from Mountain and Fjord” by Edvard Hagerup Grieg began the second half of the afternoon with the questioning, yet powerful movement, “On Skindeggen, in Jotunhejm.” The next section, “Johanne,” was the first truly plot-driven movement. It began by quietly telling the story of a woman living in a “mountain shack.” Combs then made his soft voice change into a menacing warning while revealing that the woman had committed adultery. The piece moves on, leaving the audience to wonder what will happen to her. The next movement described a beautiful dancing maiden as Combs’ voice soared with joyous notes. In this section, “Ragnihild,” the happiness of being young shows in every note. Later this joy is shattered as “Ingebjorg” introduces an old woman who is worn from work. However, Combs’ voice manages to praise her, telling that her work has “made her spirit pure.” In “Ragna,” the fifth part, Combs’ describes the sadness of growing up, illustrating the section’s emotional theme with a slight frown. “Epilog” is the final movement. Looking back over the entire piece it summarized what time does to people, as Combs’ sang with urgency and warning, “Begin. Begin.” Three English love songs, “Macushla” by Dermot MacMurrough, “I Hear You Calling Me” by Charles Marshall, and “The Sunshine of Your Smile,” concluded the concert. Throughout these pieces, Combs’ sang with freshness and feeling, as if it was the beginning of the concert. These final loud, booming notes ended the concert with a bang. Overall, this was a wonderful performance, which brought the audience into the music with its emotional content. Combs is a talented performer who looks beyond the technical details of a piece to the core passions of the music.
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