Natalie Dessay, the French soprano, gave a recital in Carnegie Hall. Her program was the kind usually disfavored by administrators and critics. There was no “theme,” as far as I could tell. The program was simply an assemblage of good or great songs, intelligently selected and attractively placed. There were light songs and serious songs, fast ones and slow ones. They were in either French or German—but there was not a French half and a German half, as there often is. The languages were interspersed.

Dessay began with Clara Schumann—including her song that sets “Liebst du um Schönheit,” the Rückert poem. We know this poem best, of course, from Mahler’s...