We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Chris Reynolds, Yoon Lee, Natalia Katyukova, Jessica Niles, Nathaniel LaNasa, Kady Evanyshyn, Jacob Scharfman, Anneliese Klenetsky, and Ji Yung Lee

We really missed the Liederabend programming at Juilliard over the summer and are happy to note that the program got off to a stellar start yesterday with a magnificent program, curated and coached by Natalia Katyukova, accompanied by Chris Reynolds, Yoon Lee, and Ji Yung Lee. Over the past few years we have watched the audience grow from a smattering of lieder lovers to a throng. This fame is well deserved. One could not have found a better recital at any price.

It was admirable that each of the four featured singers took the stage with confidence, introduced her/himself, and told enough about their chosen work so that we in the audience could appreciate their involvement. We wish more recitalists did the same. A singer of lieder is a conduit through which the poet speaks and the composer resounds. Their individual interpretations can give new life to familiar works or introduce us to material that may be new to us.

Mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn opened the program with five lovely songs by Clara Schumann. This is a composer who speaks  (sings) to us with Austrian Romanticism in full flower. Readers know how much we love melody! It was obvious from the first note that Ms. Evanyshyn loves Clara's music as much as we do. We are always elated to see her somewhat overlooked oeuvre on a program.

The wise choice of text goes halfway toward making a memorable song. Heinrich Heine's text is almost always a great choice. "Ich stand in dunklen Traumen" is a mournful tale of love and loss while "Sie liebten sich beide, doch keiner" is a more ironic story of love never realized--perhaps an even greater loss.

"Die Lorelei" is one of Heine's horror stories and allowed Ms. Evanyshyn and her collaborative pianist Ji Yung Lee the opportunity to indulge in totally different coloration with the rippling in the piano suggesting the waves and both artists conveying a sense of urgency.

It was a welcome relief to hear the peaceful "Der Mond kommt still gegangen". The final selection was "Am Strande", a German translation of Robert Burns' poem "Musing on the roaring ocean".

Ms. Evanyshyn has a lovely and gracious stage presence, using only minimal gesture and allowing the text and musical phrasing to shine through. She never allows her gifts to steal attention from the music.

Next on the program was soprano Anneliese Klenetsky with Chris Reynolds as collaborative pianist. She too introduced herself with grace and enthused about her discovery that Benjamin Britten set some Russian text. This was a discovery for us too and we found the songs as unsettling as Ms. Klenetsky did. The text for this cycle, The Poet's Echo, was written by one of Russia's preeminent poets Alexander Pushkin. The cycle struck us as the cry of despair from being unheard.

The performance was superb and Ms. Klenetsky captured the inherent drama with a self-possessed maturity and conveyed the mood of these non-pretty songs. Our favorite was "Angel" in which the gentleness of an angel overcomes the sullenness of Satan. 

In "The nightingale and the rose" we loved the way Mr. Reynolds captured the song of the nightingale on the piano. In "Lines Written During a Sleepless Night" the melody wanders in a searching manner the way an insomniac searches for sleep.

We love the sound of Russian and our love grows the more we become familiar with its sound. We would have to say that we enjoy Rachmaninov more than Britten and soprano Jessica Niles began by telling the audience how she chose these songs for their imagery and, indeed we could see through her eyes and hear through her voice.

We think it made quite a difference that she translated the songs herself since she seemed to know exactly what she was singing about, giving each phrase a sense of movement toward the "goal note". These are luscious songs and each one carries a mood of its own, all well captured by Ms. Niles and Yoon Lee, her collaborative pianist.

"At Night in My Garden" tells of a willow whose tears will be wiped away by the tresses of the poet. Such a tender picture! All sadness disappeared with the joy of "The Daisies". There is unmistakeable charm in "The Pied Piper" whom we wanted to follow. "Dream" was filled with wonder and was a fine antidote to Britten's song about insomnia!

Bringing the program to a stunning close was baritone Jacob Scharfman who introduced the songs of Erich Korngold and told of Korngold's birth in Austria and his success as a composer of music for film in Hollywood. Strangely, this was news to us since we always thought of him as the composer of the opera Die Tote Stadt! The songs were written by Korngold when he was still a wunderkind in his native Austria. Mr. Scharfman shared with the audience the reason for his choice; his forebears were also Austrian Jews.

The songs have an Early 20th c. feel and some of the lavishness of Richard Strauss. Mr. Scharfman also did much of his own translation. "Reiselied" is a most cheerful and energetic song of optimism, a setting of text by Joseph von Eichendorff, one of our favorite poets for lieder. "Osterreichischer Soldatenabschied" allowed shifts of mode from the piano of the wonderful Nathaniel LaNasa which were reflected vocally by Mr. Scharfman.

Perhaps our favorite was "Nachts" which conveyed a mysterious and elusive mood, emphasized by a repetitive motif in the piano involving alternation of a whole step, much slower than a trill. The program ended with "Versuchung"--a rather puzzling text.

Mr. Scharfman's performance was marked by the expansiveness of a generous spirit and a personal involvement with the text and music. There was a lovely resonance to his instrument and fine German diction.

All in all it was a delightful treat to hear such fine artistry. One could not have heard better at any price. If you haven't attended a Liederabend at Juilliard, you owe it to yourself to enjoy such a treat. But be advised that tickets are free and can disappear rapidly.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Danny Miller, Vasilisa Atanackovic, and Alison Miller

They call themselves TransAtlanticOpera and they made quite an impression last night at the National Opera Center, the end of their tour of Canada and The United States. They comprise a most unusual ensemble, of whom only three are pictured. The other two members are Brian Holman (the pianist with magic fingers) and the fine clarinetist Krishna Veerappan. They met in Sicily and formed an ensemble of interesting proportions and sonorities.

We are accustomed to hearing voice with piano or guitar accompaniment or with full orchestra so the novelty of the arrangements by violinist Danny Miller allowed us to hear familiar works with fresh ears.

Aside from arias performed by the engaging soprano Vasilisa Atanackovic, the four member ensemble performed instrumental versions of operatic highlights. When they played Mozart's "Porgi amor" from Nozze di Figaro, we could see the Countess and hear her voice in our head.

The "Meditation" from Massenet's Thais was absolutely gorgeous and featured Alison Miller's violin. "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma featured Mr. Veerappan's clarinet. Similarly gorgeous was the "Intermezzo" from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. Mr. Holman's piano was exceptional in the "Intermezzo" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut.

But it was the singer we came to hear, so let us praise Ms. Atanackovic's bright and beautiful soprano and her passionate involvement in getting the arias across. Dvorak's shimmering score for Russalka lost little in translation (or rather arrangement) and Ms. Atanackovic melded beautifully with Mr. Holman's piano part. We loved the Bohemian harmonies and the way her voice swelled in the upper register.

Liu's plea "Tu che di gel" from Puccini's Turandot came across well and we loved the Rachmaninoff song "Polubila ya" (I have grown fond of sorrow).

We hate to harp on things that detract from an otherwise stellar performance but the dreaded music stand appeared, disappeared, and reappeared on several occasions.  It truly is a barrier between singer and audience. The singer makes contact and then that slender thread is broken every time she glances down and turns a page.

Actually, we were quite surprised that this happened with a singer so intensely intent on communicating--especially at the end of a tour!  In "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (the opening piece) she lost us and we found ourselves shifting our attention to the unusual instrumental arrangement. Since Lauretta is pleading for something, it was particularly egregious to not focus on an imaginary Babbo in the audience.

Also on the program was the famous Neapolitan song "O sole mio" and the famous Spanish song "Besame mucho" performed with just the piano and marked by dynamic variety and rubato.  "Black Swan" from Menotti's The Medium (just reviewed a couple days ago) would have been so much better off the book!

There was a very emotional delivery of "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca (an opera we are going to review in a couple days) but we have saved the best for last because this must be Ms. Atanovackovic's signature role--"Senza mamma" from Puccini's Suor Angelica. Everything was there and we could appreciate not only the wonderful instrument but the phrasing and, above all, the connection with the audience that allowed us to really feel the text. A major score!

We hope that when this excellent ensemble returns that the music stand will have been relegated to the ash heap!

(c) meche kroop


Yesterday we were privileged to sit in on Joyce DiDonato's Master Class at Juilliard. Brian Zeger, Artistic Director of the Vocal Arts Department, gave her the introduction merited by her artistry and accomplishments in the field and pointed out that she has been given an Honorary Doctorate at this esteemed institution. The class was live-streamed for a wider audience than could fit into Paul Hall.

If you are wondering about the title of this review, all those extra "E's" stand for Education, Enlightenment, Entertainment, Exhilaration, and Excitement--all of which marked the two hour class that we wished had lasted longer.

The participants were students pursuing advanced degrees in the Vocal Arts Department, all of whom showed evidence of superlative training. What Ms. DiDonato contributed was in the nature of fine tuning their artistry with intuitive observations and suggestions. She began by pointing out that the class was not a performance but a playground in which the singers could try out new things. It is the process that is important.

There were concepts that seemed to apply to one and all. First of all is the importance of analysis of the character. The singer must figure out why the character enters onstage and the reason the character makes his/her exit. Physical gestures reveal the underlying feeling. The singer must have his/her own point of view but be sufficiently flexible to make adjustments, according to the wishes of the director.  But never enter an audition or competition with the anticipation of what is expected.

Once the singer has learned the aria thoroughly, the singer must give attention to making choices and never allow the performance to become automatic. If there is a repeat, think about the reason for repeating.  Hear the harmony in the accompaniment but feel the rhythm.

Ms. DiDonato has a particular affection for recitativi. This is where the singer reveals his/her artistry. With the three women singers we heard, focus was mainly on the recit. Their collaborative pianist was the excellent and always supportive Chris Reynolds. All of them were transformed by their 25 minute session!

Mezzo-soprano Nicole Thomas worked on "Sein wir wieder gut" from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. The Composer is 18 years old and love has hit him like a coup de foudre. He is hormonal and emotionally extravagant. His volatility is expressed by the music being "off the beat". (This is not the same as Cherubino who is constantly in love.) The manic energy must be supported by clear diction to get over the dense orchestration. The "z" sound of "Sein" must be clear.

Soprano Tamara Banjesevic worked on "Eccomi in lieta vesta" from Bellini's I Capuleti  i Montecchi. From the beginning "Eccomi", the singer must project innocence and purity. She is looking at herself dressed for a wedding to a man she does not wish to marry.  The pain must also show but not self pity. Giulietta is seeing herself in a mirror.  If the singer sees it, the audience will see it.

Soprano Felicia Moore worked on Elettra's aria "Oh smania!"--or at least the recit part--from Mozart's Idomeneo. The singer must dig into the text.  It is important to emphasize the  "zm" sound of "smania". An accompanied recit is like a conversation between the singer and the orchestra. This involves intense listening for the underlying harmonies and key changes. Specifically, in this recit, there is a switch to the major mode and the singer must understand why and sell it to the audience. Slowing down gives the singer a chance to register the emotional journey.

Tenor Joshua Blue alone got to sing an aria, accompanied by Ji Yung Lee on the piano. If there is one tenor aria that is ridden with cliche, it is "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. Ms. DiDonato got rid of all the stuff by asking Mr. Blue to sing it to her, as if he were telling his best friend about his new discovery. This made a world of difference. It became sharing instead of "acting". 

He was also encouraged to imagine an unbroken thread of sound to produce the necessary legato. This resulted in a more Italianate sound without his pretending to be an "Italian tenor". The repeated phrases were given new meaning and new life.

A few minutes were saved at the end for a Q and A. The point that stuck in our mind was about career development--that tenacity comes from within, not from teachers or coaches. We are cognizant of the difficulties faced by young singers and have made observations that support Ms. DiDonato's comment. It is a journey and it is never helpful to compare oneself to others. Ms. DiDonato pointed out that her very own career got off to a slow start.  Each one is on a different journey. Live it!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Erik Bagger, Barbara Porto, Director Desiree Alejandro, Caroline Tye, and Maestro Whitney George

Don't feel bad if you didn't know the meaning of the title of New Camerata Opera's show--Triskaidekaphilia. We had to look it up ourselves; it means "obsession with the number thirteen". This was quite appropriate since the show opened on Friday the 13th. We regret to inform you that if you weren't there this weekend you missed one helluva show.

The stated mission of New Camerata Opera is "to engage, to excite, and educate through immersive performances that break down barriers and inspire the fans of the future". This goal was achieved 101%. The guest we invited was as new to opera as we are experienced and we both appreciated it equally. Just seeing a house packed with millennials brought joy to our heart. 

What we experienced surely represents the future of opera--an immersive experience, up front and personal, intensely involving, and ultimately satisfying. The enthusiasm of the audience gives proof of the accomplishment of the stated mission.

We have seen Gian Carlo Menotti's one-act opera The Medium several times but found enhanced emotional resonance in this staging by Director Desire Alejandro. We may as well have been one of Madame Flora's deluded clients, so involved were we with the onstage action.

Here's the story in case you don't know it. For years Madame Flora has run phony seances and taken money from believers desperate to contact their dearly departed loved ones.  To this purpose she has enlisted the services of her daughter Monica and a mute Hungarian gypsy boy named Toby whom she rescued from the streets.  While "under the influence" she begins to hallucinate the "ghosts" and blames Toby.  She becomes fearful and then hysterical with tragic results.  

We attributed her fear of ghosts to a combination of guilt and alcohol but our guest believed the story to be one of supernatural revenge in the face of her deceit, exploitation, and greed. A brief chat with Ms. Alejandro was valuable.  She pointed out that Madame Flora had probably survived all kinds of evils in her native Hungary, including the Holocaust. This would explain much about her survivor mentality. Leaving the audience in a state of puzzlement is also a feature of Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw.

As interpreted by mezzo-soprano Caroline Tye, she is a compelling figure--controlling, angry, and manipulative; Ms. Tye inhabited the role like a custom made garment. There was no attempt to create a "pretty" sound but rather to use her substantial instrument to illuminate these aspects of Madame Flora's character. It was a totally committed performance, exactly what was called for. When she unravels, her aria "Afraid, am I afraid" cut to the bone.

Her daughter Monica was beautifully embodied by soprano Barbara Porto. Where her mother was vicious and abusive to the mute Toby, Monica was loving and caring, giving voice to his thoughts. Her gleaming instrument and youthful stage presence were just perfect for the role. She had two fine arias--the well known "Monica's Waltz" and "The Black Swan".

At first we thought it was a waste to cast tenor Erik Bagger in a non-singing role but it gave us an opportunity to take measure of his acting skills. His Toby was a sympathetic character whose tragic end gave us herzschmerz. Fortunately, we got to hear him sing later.

Soprano Alexandra Lang was excellent in the role of Mrs. Gobineau, a client of Madame Flora who had suffered the loss of her infant son; she had visited the medium weekly for years just to hear her lost baby laugh, an effect provided by the hidden Monica. Baritone Scott Lindroth finely portrayed her husband. The new client, Mrs. Nolan, was well performed by mezzo-soprano Eva Parr. Her character was there to connect with her departed teenage daughter Doodley. All three singers conveyed the willing gullibility of bereft parents. We felt for them; and that's good acting and good singing.

Music Director and Conductor Whitney George distinguished herself on the podium with pianist Nora Bartosik creating an almost orchestral sound on her Kawai keyboard. Adding to the wealth of sound was percussionist Joe Tucker who excelled on the vibraphone. Violinist Adam von Housen bowed his violin with a fine tone that contributed to the whole. It is notable that Maestro George arranged much of the transcriptions and arrangements, and did a splendid job of it.

The same musicians were on board for the second half of the evening--a cabaret comprising a wide variety of works dealing with the macabre. The Medium was so satisfying that we could have left in a state of fulfillment, but then we might have missed some excellent performances.

Fortunately, Mr. Bagger returned for the second half, complete with blood-stained shirt, but this time in full possession of his voice. He delivered a fine version of Kurt Weill's "Youkali" and joined the ensemble for a work by Brahms that was new to us--"Wechsellied zum Tanze". All the singers in the cabaret appeared as ghouls in scary makeup by Shannon Mae Mulligan.

We heard Camille Saint-Saens' "Danse macabre" in two forms. The opening featured Mr. von Housen's violin and the closing was sung rapid-fire by Mr. Lindroth. Ms. Lang performed Poulenc's "Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant" and baritone Stan Lacy performed Debussy's "Beau soir". Both artists employed fine French diction.

Mezzo-soprano Julia Tang did a fine job with Britten's "Funeral Blues" and Ms. Parr came on strong in "Yo soy Maria" from Astor Piazzolla's tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires which we reviewed a few years ago. Tenor Victor Khodadad performed the chilling Schubert song "Die Erlkonig" with a woman in red portraying the fantasy figures in a masterstroke of visual design.

We would be remiss not to mention the visual elements contributed by The House of Yes, a most unusual and funky performance space in Bushwick. We have not seen the like of it in Manhattan. Aerialist Roxie Valdez performed on a trapeze and fabric rope. Singers climbed up the walls. Aisles and balconies were put to use. If we weren't so busy documenting the singing we might have had more to share with you.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Julius Drake and Ruby Hughes

Listening to the magic of last night's recital at Weill Recital Hall, we couldn't keep ourselves from thinking about Dorothy's magic shoes in The Wizard of Oz. In any case, there was a lot of magic onstage in a superlative recital given by two artists who compliment each other to an unusual degree. Mr. Drake has the soft hands that we favor, always supporting Ms. Hughes and never drowning her out, unlike some accompanists we have heard recently.

Ms. Hughes has a gracious stage presence and a lovely instrument with which to work. What impressed us immediately was her expressiveness and the attention paid to coloring each word. She opened the program with a trio of songs by Henry Purcell. They spoke to us from the 17th c. in a clearer voice than the Britten songs from the 20th c. that we heard later in the program.

"Music for a while" always beguiles us.  "O lead me to some peaceful gloom" was new to us but "Thrice happy lovers" was familiar from the masque The Faerie Queen which we so enjoyed this past summer (review archived) produced by the newborn Gramercy Opera. The British artist made every word clear and made every word count, without ignoring the overall phrasing.

Robert Schumann's Liederkreis, Op.39 was performed in its entirety and we were transported to the world of nature as seen through the eyes of the 19th c. poet Joseph von Eichendorff. When Schumann called him the perfect poet for lieder he was right on point. The text rhymes and scans beautifully and the images are evocative. (Actually, the same could be said for the texts employed by Purcell.)

With the typical style of 18th c. German Romanticism, Eichendorff used natural elements to refer to feeling tone. Forests can be lonely or threatening. Birds can symbolize freedom of expression and one's very soul. The sky can kiss the earth as a lover would.

The two artists excelled here. Ms. Hughes was riveting in "Waldesgesprach", illuminating the voices of the "man on the make" and that of the witch who retaliates with anger and severe punishment. Mr. Drake was remarkable in creating an air of quietude in the prelude to "Mondnacht" and the rustling of the treetops in "Schone Fremde".

In "Auf einer Burg", the piece closes on an unsettled and unresolved note. We are left puzzled about the weeping bride. Although we have heard this cycle countless times, we have never heard artists create this intense effect. We would have wished to linger awhile as the question hung in the air.

Our only quibble was with Ms. Hughes German. We understood it but were mildly disconcerted by some inconsistencies in the final "ch" and "g", as well as a tendency to ignore the umlaut in certain words. (We ourselves are hampered by not having diacritical marks on our keyboard but if a kind reader comes to our aid we will be grateful. Our writing program used to have a "hack" for this but no longer.)

We are happy to report that Ms. Hughes' French was merveilleux. Lately we have been hearing a great deal of Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis and never tire of it. Each singer has done well in conveying the adolescent innocence of "La flute de Pan", the eroticism of "La chevelure" and the pain of facing reality in "Le tombeau des naiades" when the lover has lost his desire. Ms. Hughes put her own spin on it--the feeling of loneliness when love dies--and we loved it. Debussy's complex piano score was no challenge for Mr. Drake.

We couldn't say we loved Ravel's Deux melodies hebraiques but we loved the way the singer sang them with gorgeous melismas. Perhaps the failure to connect with this work had much to do with Ms. Hughes being "on the book".

A Charm of Lullabies by Benjamin Britten also failed to charm us. This has more to do with our taste than the success of the composition or its performance.  "The Highland Balou" and "The Nurse's Song" have text that is doggerel, but we enjoyed them the most. Some of the others seemed as if they did not ask to be set. 

We managed to feel no affection for the world premiere of Huw Watkins' cycle Echo. We realize that it is a very big deal for a singer to have a work composed just for him/her but it is rare that we enjoy such events. The presence of the detested music stand interfered with any connection we might have felt. Just sayin'.

As encore we heard the Scottish folk song "O Waly Waly", otherwise known as "Water is Wide". It was sung with simplicity and restored our good feeling about this exceptional recital. We understand Ms. Hughes is devoted to female composers and hope she will consider adding some Clara Schumann to her next recital.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Bai Yang and Yuan Sha

Many years ago, long before we became devoted to opera, we had a passion for Chinese opera. We spent many evenings at the Chinese American Cultural Center on Sixth Avenue, enjoying every type—from the most classical to the most rustic. We loved the stories and the sound of Mandarin, a language with tones that sounds sung even when spoken. But we knew nothing of Chinese instrumental music.

Last night, acclaimed Chinese musician/educator/professor Yuan Sha presented an evening of traditional and modern music played upon the guzheng, accompanied by other instruments. The performance/lecture was arranged by the Bureau for External Relations of the Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China and presented by the China Arts and Entertainment Group. 

The program was entitled "Zheng and Poem--a Tour of Chinese Music Culture" and is touring around the country. The stated purpose of this lecture/performance was to advance appreciation of this art form and to demonstrate the shared values of Chinese and American people. Music surely transcends politics!

The guzheng is an instrument made of wood, over 5 feet long, and bearing 16-25 strings which are plucked and supported by moveable bridges; it is tuned to a pentatonic scale. It inspired similar instruments throughout Asia, the most notable being the Japanese koto. The closest Western instruments might be considered the zither and the harp. But it has a sound all its own and what a wonderful sound it is--both exotic and accessible. The artists we heard established an intense vibrato to the point of bending the tone. Tremolos are frequent as well as harp-like passionate runs. It would be an understatement to say that we were enthralled.

Each one of the selections had its own special character but all were marked by the consummate artistry of the musicians who, with typical Chinese modesty, were not identified for each piece but were shown biographically in the back of the program.

Playing the guzheng were Ms. Sha herself and two other wonderful artists, her students Bai Yang and Cen Jiawei. Accompaniment was provided by pianist Zhang Zhengchen, flutist Ai Hongbo,  and percussionist Wu Hao who contributed some complex rhythms. . Further contributions were made by three Juilliard students--violinist Sumire Hirotsuru, cellist Sebastian Stoger, and harpist Deanna Cirielli who played a splendid duet with Ms. Sha.

One piece, "Travel in the Desert", from the period of the Tang Dynasty, showed the influence of the Arab world when the Silk Road brought in foreign influences. Other pieces were based on love, longing, nostalgia, nature, sorrow, and patriotism.

Guzheng music fell out of favor for a time but was kept alive and passed down from one generation to the next, to be revived in 1949 when The People's Republic was established. At present it is showing the influence of contemporary Western music but, true to form, we prefer the classical!

We were delighted to learn that Juilliard is collaborating with Tian Jin Conservatory to establish a graduate school, scheduled to open in 2019.

We feel privileged to have experienced this valuable cross-cultural event!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Scott Rednour and Xiaoming Tian at Elabash Recital Hall

It's been over two years since we reviewed Xiaoming Tian's Masters Degree Recital at Manhattan School of Music when we made some puns about the English meaning of his name.  We wound up inventing our own name for him...Triply Talented Tian. The reason was that he ended the recital singing a highly heartfelt song whilst accompanying himself on the piano. It was a colleague of his who told us that Mr. Tian composed the song himself!

Now that Mr. Tian is enrolled in the Ph.D./D.M.A. Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, perhaps he is no longer so gripped with modesty because he announced himself as the composer when he performed the same incredible feat last night as an encore to his excellent recital. Although the words were not printed in the program,  the artist supplied us with the text, 

It is a lovely text, filled with nostalgia and references to elements of nature. The sounds of sung Mandarin rose and fell with the music in perfect partnership and delighted the ear. Mandarin is a musical language to start with and lovely to listen to.The song "Don't Cast Away" began with delicacy but became vigorous at the climax. His piano writing is melodic and included some wonderful arpeggi.

One of the things we most admire about Mr. Tian (aside from his compositional and pianistic skills) is his musicality. The phrasing is always apt and his control of dynamics excellent. Added to this is a facility with languages.

It seems as if singers, for whom English is a second language, have better English diction than native English speakers. Since the Masters recital, Mr. Tian's English diction has improved to the point that every word of the Barber songs was clearly enunciated. English will never be our favorite language for singing but it was a pleasure to hear it so well sung.

His French is also excellent and we were very glad to hear his Ravel once more. We just wrote about Don Quichotte a Dulcinee a few days ago but last night's performance took us back to the earlier graduation recital and gave us an opportunity to measure his artistic growth. We would call this cycle his "signature".

He invested "Chanson romanesque" with sweetness, "Chanson epique" with devotional piety, and "Chanson a boire" (our favorite) with flights of extravagant melismatic singing.

He has equal skills with German, evincing a fine vibrato in the vowels with no cheating of the consonants. We were happy to hear our favorites--"Die Nacht", "Allerseelen", and "Zueignung" from Op. 10 of 1885 composed when Strauss was only 20 years old! (What's YOUR 20-year-old doing with his time?) From the 1894 Op. 27 we enjoyed "Morgen!" with it's lovely piano interlude and "Heimliche Aufforderung". These are Strauss' most romantic and passionate songs, of which we never tire.

Fortunately, Mr. Tian chose some of Rachmaninov's best songs, of which we prefer "Do Not Sing To Me My Beauty" because of its melancholy text and haunting vocal line.  "In the Silence of the Secret Night" is another winner and "Christ is Risen" recalled the despairing condition of the world today. Mr. Tian has a flair for Russian, as we recall when we heard him sing Eugene Onegin,

Rounding out the program were two lovely songs in Mandarin by Qing Zhu about the Yangtze River, one a personal revelation of longing and the other about an historical event. We suspect that the extensive program notes were a product of Mr. Tian's scholarship.

Mr. Tian studies with Robert White who was in the audience and whose pleasure seemed on par with our own.  Accompanist for the recital was Scott Rednour.

(c) meche kroop