The Boston Globe
The Tenor Robert White has spent his whole life singing sons. He started at the age of 9, on the old Fred Allen radio show. He has sung contemporary music, early music (with Noah Greenberg’s New York Pro Musica), opera, popular ballads, and everything in between. He has sung before the crowned heads of Europe and a handful of American presidents besides. He knows what he’s doing. How on the voice faculty at Juilliard, and having attained an age where most troubadours contemplate a gracious retirement, White continued to concertize. Why not? He has fun, we have fun. The man is irrepressible, irresistible, and – need we say more? – he’s Irish. In any song you can name, from Schubert to “I’ll take you home again, Kathleen,” when that sweet, clear voice wraps itself around a melody and that rosy Hibernian countenance lights up with an expression of conspiratorial delight, resistance is futile. White was assisted at the piano by Melissa Marse, a rising chamber player and singer in her own right. Supple of rhythm and suave of attack, Marse knows both how to assert herself with big tone and grand gesture and how to defer to the light-voiced White. White carried, and occasionally referred to, the lieder singer’s Little Black Book; his delivery was of the old-fashioned hand-on-heart variety. He has a ready arsenal of vocal color, perfect diction with juicy consonants, and an easy mobility of face and body that lets you know he loves being up there telling you just how he feels. He didn’t feel entirely healthy, actually. He admitted (at the end, not the beginning, of the concert) that he was “fighting something off.” In his first sustained sons, Schubert’s “Lied eines Schiffers an die dioskuren,” we could detect cold symptoms. White cleared his vocal decks inconspicuously between two German words, produced a heavenly mixed voice and kept going. In Schumann’s demanding “Der Hidalgo,” White and Marse swaggered around, strumming guitars (she) and looking for a fight or a fling (he). In a group of turn-of-the-century songs by Bostonians Beach, Chanier, Parker, he matched their post-post romantic excesses with some of his own. The dedicatee of John Corigliano’s poignant “Song to the Witch of the Cloisters,” White used moaning melismas and blanched mixed voice to find effect. Five sophisticated Poulenc sons, then some Broadway favorites elegantly shaped, preceded three Irish songs: the terminally charming “Star of County Down,” “The Old House” (complete with lingering final falsetto high note), the aforementioned “Kathleen” (written by an American named Westendorf), and the encore. “I only have one song left in me, how about ‘Danny Boy’?” All eyes, Irish or not, brimmed over as he sang the world’s most beautiful tune.
Back to page