Music review: Cano’s performance gorgeous in Union chamber music festival

The husband and wife team of mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and pianist Christopher Cano presen

The husband and wife team of mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and pianist Christopher Cano presented a stellar program Wednesday night at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the 40th International Festival of Chamber Music.

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For Gazette music writer Geraldine Freedman’s preview of this show, click here.

Johnson Cano is on the cusp of a great career. After she won the 2008 Metropolitan Opera Auditions, Met music director James Levine snagged her for the three-year Lindemann program, which she just completed. She also made her debut at the Met where she’ll continue for six months this season as well as performing as soloist with numerous major orchestras.

Her voice has marvelous resonance, luster and the ability to thrill. From her darkly-hued chest tones to her soaring top notes, her range is consistent, full and has a depth of unusual richness. Every phrase has a rounded completeness with effortless breath control, superior pacing and much color. She never seemed to struggle despite the technical demands. Her diction was excellent for all languages. Best of all, she sang each song as if the stories were her stories: her face, her gestures and even a lifted shoulder or a wagging finger helped tell the tales. She connected to the crowd.

Cano provided expert support, which was helped by his superb technical abilities. He set up each song’s atmosphere, which gave his wife a framework to spring from. Only occasionally did his exuberance get in the way and he played too loudly.

The program of folk inspired material was interesting. They began with five “Chants d’Auvergne” compiled by J. Canteloube that were sung in Auvergne. “La Delaissado” (“The Deserted Girl”) was especially evocative with Johnson Cano intoning a few phrases in an almost pop style. Dvorak’s “Gypsy Songs” Op. 55 included two famous tunes, “My Song Resounds” and “Songs my Mother Taught Me.” All were sung with great flair, much feeling and good phrase emphasis. DeFalla’s six Spanish songs showed off her flirtatious side. “Polo” was especially fiery and hard-edged.

Some of her tones in Elgar’s five “Sea Pictures” were like pearl drops. Her phrases were silken. Johnson Cano gave meaning to the beautiful texts. “Where Corals Lie” and “The Swimmer” were especially wonderful.

As an encore, she gave a nod to America with “Go Away from My Door” transcribed by John Jacob Niles. Johnson Cano spun out the simple lines with such heartfelt emotion that many in the crowd could only sigh. It was utterly gorgeous.

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