Edward Parks, baritone

This past Saturday afternoon I had the immense pleasure of seeing Edwark Parks, a baritone singer originally from Indiana, Pennsylvania. It was a private concert held in the home of a family friend. Edward Parks has a B.M from Oberlin Conservatory, and is currently finishing his M.M at Yale University. He was accompanied by Douglas Dickson on piano, who has a B.A from Princeton University and a M.M.A degree from the Yale School of Music. The afternoon’s program:

Robert Schumann

Dichterliebe, “Poet’s Love,” op. 48
I- XVI

Samuel Barber

Three Songs
I. Now Have I Fed and Eaten up the Rose
II. A Green Lowland of Pianos
III. O Boundless, Boundless Evening

John Duke

The Three Gothic Ballads
I. The Old King
II. The Mad Knight’s Song
III. The Coward’s Lament

Robert Quilter

Four Songs
I. Come away, death
II. Now sleeps the crimson petal
III. Weep you no more
IV. Believe me, if all those endearing young Charms

Samuel Barber’s set of songs were filled with fantasy, and Edward Parks soothing and rich voice washed over the audience in waves of grandeur. John Duke’s work was very interesting, and the second song had some jazzy interludes which I liked very much. Robert Quilter’s four songs were each beautiful in their own way. The first, “Come away, death”, was beautiful in a mournful way. The second, “Now sleeps the crimson petal” was touching. The third was tragically beautiful, while the fourth (and Edward Parks’ grandmother’s favorite song) was a sweet and beautiful waltz.

You might be wondering why I am discussing the pieces out of order. Although “Poet’s Love” was the first song on the program, I wanted to save it for last because it was my favorite. But before I get to that, let me really confuse everyone by mentioning that for their encore, Mr. Park and Mr. Dickson performed “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” from “Kiss Me Kate.” The whole crowd was roaring with laughter, and Mr. Park’s did a fantastic job of singing it with lots of character and charisma.

And now, on to “Poet’s Love”….

“Poet’s Love” by Robert Schumann is a series of poems (which are sung in German) set to music. The program included the English translation which I read through before the concert started, but I didn’t keep track of the words to the verses while Edward Parks was singing. Although I don’t speak German, what I found interesting was that the passion of the music spoke for itself and I was able to understand what the composer was trying to convey. I was able to understand the mood and setting of each verse, without having to read the translation while I listened (and without having to learn German either…). There were 16 verses, as stated in the program listing above. Verse’s one and two had a moderate tempi. On verse three, the tempo picked up a bit. Verse five had a faster tempo than the verses before it, and started to create more tension in the music. Verse six was very dark and brooding… Seven was very strong, and Edward Parks voice sounded absolutely magnificent! There had been a light steady rain since earlier in the day, but at the strongest point in the verse, the heavens opened and rain poured upon the earth with more rage than it had all day. It was incredible… Verse nine was a lovely waltz and was followed by verse ten, which was sorrowful and breathtakingly poignant. There was so much emotion and depth in Mr. Parks voice that one couldn’t help but be moved. Twelve was sweet, almost like a lullaby. Verses thirteen and fourteen floated past quickly, which brought us to verse fifteen. It was whimsical and jolly, and as Edward Parks sang that particular verse, the sun came shining forth from behind the storm ridden clouds. I couldn’t believe how the weather was mimicking the music… It was positively otherwordly. Speaking of otherworldly, that’s exactly what the last verse was. Both piano and voice were full of power, and there was an almost God-like quality in the musical message. I had kept notes during the piece and when I looked back at them over intermission to compare them to the translation, I found that what I re-read in the translation was exactly what had been portrayed to me through the music itself. Some examples for you:

Remember how I said verse seven was the strongest? Here’s what Mr. Park’s was singing:

I’ll not complain, even if my heart should break.
Love lost forever! I’ll not complain.
Though you beam in diamond splendor,
No light falls into the night within your heart.

This I have long known, I saw you in a dream,
And saw the night in your heart,
and saw the serpent gnawing on your heart.
I saw, my love, how very miserable you are.

And verse ten being sorrowful and poignant? Hmmm…

When I hear the sound of the song
That my sweetheart once sang,
My breast nearly explodes
from the wild rush of pain.

I am driven by a dark longing
up into the forest heights,
There, my overwhelming pain
dissolves in tears.

Verse fifteen being whimsical?

From ancient tales is beckons
me forth with a white hand,
And there is singing and ringing
From a magic land:

Where colored flowers blossom
In the golden evening light,
and fragrantly glow
with bridal faces;

Where green trees sing
Primevel melodies
And breezes secretly ring
And birds loudly join the song

And misty figures rise
Right out of the earth
And dance airy dances
In a wondrous choir:

And blue sparks flash
On every leave and blossom
And red lights race
In a mad wild circle

And springs leap
From the wild marble stones
And strange reflections
Shine from the brooks.

Oh, could I but go there
And feel my heart rejoice
And free of all torture,
Be free and happy!

Oh! that land of bliss,
That I often see my dream,
But when the sun rises,
Evaporates like sea-foam.

And lastly, the God-like quality in the music of verse sixteen:

The old, evil songs,
The dreams, bad and annoying,
Let us now bury them,
Fetch a large coffin.

Within I shall lay indeed something,
But I shall not say yet what;
The coffin must be even bigger
than the casket at Heilelberg

And fetch a bier,
of boards strong and thick
and they must be longer
than the bridge of Mainz.

And fetch me too twelve giants,
the must be even stronger
than the holy Christopher
in the cathredral of Cologne on the Rhein.

They shall carry the casket forth,
and sink it deep in the sea.
For such a large casket
deserves a large grave.

Do you know why the casket
must be so large and heavy?
I shall lay also my love
and my pain in it.

“Poet’s Love” is a true masterpiece by Schumann, and a triumph among music. Music is the only one truly universal language, for it speaks to everyone, and to everyone it speaks something which they can understand. Top that, English.

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