"You talkin' to



That famous line from the film

Taxi Driver

came to mind repeatedly during Juliane Banse's cultivated recital of German song presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society Tuesday at the Kimmel Center - once she got going, that is.

Though she trafficks in one of the most refined vocal arts a singer can attempt, her manner was so direct, natural and without any barriers between singer and audience, you felt as if you were being specifically addressed.

Periodical proclamations that the song recital is dead are seriously contradicted by Banse, a German-born, Swiss-raised soprano who sings Mozart, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Berg like a first language, and exhibits particular bravery with contemporary music (her fine recording of Kurtág's


for one). She's one of several young recitalists - Christian Gerhaher, Christianne Stotijn and Susan Platts are others - who don't suffer in comparison with monumental predecessors such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Hearing Banse on recordings is great, but live is better. She has the carriage of a ballet dancer (she was trained as such at Zurich Opera), and the dark-hued tone of a mezzo-soprano but the range of a soprano. Her higher notes felt marvelously rarefied, even liquid, for their silvery lack of vibrato. Her word projection was as animated and considered as the beloved Schwarzkopf, but conspicuously lacking artifice.

Never did you sense wheels turning inside Banse's head (unlike with Schwarzkopf and Dieskau, where gyrating wheels were part of the appeal). She didn't interpret or portray any given song as much as she became it. This inside-out characterization, no doubt honed from solid training as an actress, made her art extremely comfortable to take in. There was no semaphoric indicating, no observing music from a distance. This approach had an odd effect on her charisma: Though she's a handsome presence, her magnetism came from embodying great music like Schumann's

Liederkreis Op. 39

and Berg's

Seven Early Songs

- and waned with lesser music by Mendelssohn, and in the recital's uncertain opening moments, Mozart songs written to French texts.

Thanks partly to her like-minded pianist Brian Zeger, the music revealed itself with ever-greater clarity. Berg's songs can feel amorphous and indecisive, but not on Tuesday, when they emerged as a civilized, indoor version of Debussy.

Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at dstearns@phillynews.com.