The recital by West Chester faculty artist Randall Scarlata and distinguished pianist Ken Noda last Friday rewarded those braving the dual threat of traffic and the 10 degree freeze. Scarlata ʼs program highlighted German, French and American art song, representing Schumann, Schubert, Debussy and Ives. His recital was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Scarlata is equally engaging on both visual and aural fronts. Attendees were treated to a wide range of emotion, amplified by his command of the stage and of diction. He used his stage and surroundings without hesitation or undue exaggeration. In the sober German set, he gestured and sang in his pianistʼs direction, creating the illusion of dialogue. Such creative acting was commonplace and made the songs even more compelling.
Sophistication balanced with simplicity seems to be Scarlataʼs trademark. Neither of my guests had attended voice recitals, yet their appreciation of the music paralleled mine (especially after discovering the language translations in the program). But in western culture even sophistication is not above parody, as latenight television demonstrates. Scarlataʼs ruthless exploitation of Ivesʼ irreverence and piety suspended his audience.
His revels in operatic hyperbole elicited side-splitting giggles in the seats, which stifled upon the musicʼs sudden sobriety. Ivesʼ self-deprecation was so well projected that I wondered if I were watching a human being or a cartoon character. Hallucinations of a Bugs Bunny baritone, in all his vein-popping, forehead-beading, fixed-gaze, high-note-holding glory appeared, along with the Simpsonʼs high-strung, Gilbert- &-Sullivan quoting Sideshow Bob.
His collaborator, Ken Noda, exhibited flawless technique and a suave tone to match. Noda is a veteran performer who assists James Levine in the Metropolitan Opera. His command of the subtleties of the keyboard and the repertoire was unquestioned. Although the drama of the German set requires physical resonance on the pianistʼs part, his gestures in some of these pieces seemed strained on a visual level.
Despite this, his sound was strong and tender. The French and American repertoire was played with a natural enjoyment and sensitivity. He even imbibed the humor of one Ives piece, loudly announcing, “Curtain!” at the climactic pause, a delightful breach of decorum.
This concert was immensely rewarding. If you would like to experience music of this caliber, or believe that your date would, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society organizes scores of programs each year. With student rates of just 10 dollars (3 for $24 online) it is a value hard to come by in this town. Scarlata and other music faculty can be heard on campus as well. More details on this series can be found at www. philadelphiachambermusic.org.