Most of the time when we think about chamber music, we picture string quartets and other instrumental ensembles, but some of the best chamber music ever written was scored for the singing voice. And mezzo-soprano Faith Sherman and pianist Joseph Li proved that point beautifully when they appeared on the Artist Series of Sarasota recently in a picturesque John Cannon home at Lakewood Ranch.
This was chamber music as it’s meant to be: intimate (the audience numbered fewer than 100), in a small space (a private home) and convivial (we sat around the performers, sipping wine and feeling happy and pampered). Best of all, it was beautifully presented.
Sherman is one of these new, young superstar singers who can toss off the most difficult repertoire (three gorgeous songs by Rachmaninov, in Russian) after presenting familiar, fun and fervent songs by the likes of Cole Porter (the hilarious “Tale of the Oyster”), Sondheim and Kern (“Bill” from “Showboat”).
And her pianist, Li, playing with the music flat on top of the piano and sounding very much like the great Warren Jones, is a master musician from classics by Schubert and Hahn, to the jazzy “Cry Me a River” and “Bewitched.” Like Jones (who has partnered with some of the world’s finest singers), Li knows how to breathe at the keyboard, allowing his vocal partner space and room to phrase poetically.
Yes, Sherman is a classy classical singer, and some of her jazz and cabaret interpretations smacked more of the opera house than the nightclub. But her perfect diction in five languages, deep understanding of the words and her breezy, charming, warm personality brought her through with flying colors.
This is a mezzo for which to watch. She’s already gotten rave reviews in the New York Times, received a Grammy nomination and made appearances with numerous important companies from the Houston Grand Opera to Chautauqua and Wolf Trap. Her upcoming schedule is even more exciting with appearances scheduled in Europe, as well as this country. The Artist Series of Sarasota made a good choice featuring her now — while she’s still available.
— June LeBell