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.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Mr. Myer, Ms. Sugiyama, Ms. Maroney, Mr. Brofman, Ms. Strickland, Mr. Williams
A chance to hear songs we hadn't heard before sung by singers heretofore unknown to us was enough to bring us to Brooklyn for Part II of Clara, Robert and Johannes, presented by the worthy Brooklyn Art Song Society.  Discovering a new performance space, Old Stone House, was the icing on the cake.  Who knew?

What an excellent opportunity it was to hear the complete lieder of Clara Schumann; unlike other women composers of the day, Clara was able to compose and perform with the support of her husband in what must be considered one of the great love affairs of the 19th c.  Having defied Clara's recalcitrant father, the couple married and enjoyed a life of musical partnership until Robert's untimely death.  In spite of the adoration felt for her by Johannes Brahms, she ostensibly remained faithful to her late husband. But she sadly stopped composing when her husband died.

With her generous soprano, Laura Strickling opened the program with  Clara's Sechs Lieder, Op. 13. partnered by Miori Sugiyama on the piano.  We were quite taken with "Sie liebten sich beide", a tale of missed opportunities in which the gorgeous piano line drifts away without resolution, like the couple that never expressed their love.  Choosing a text by Heinrich Heine is never a mistake!  Of course one could say the same about Rückert; and Clara's setting of von Geibel's "Die stille Lotusblume" was incredibly tender and sweet.

We enjoyed Ms. Strickling's singing even more in the six lieder of Op. 23.  Her blooming upper register gave joyful life to these texts by Rollet, particularly "Was weinst du, Blümlein".  We enjoyed the gentle arpeggios in Ms. Sugiyama's piano in "Geheimes Flüstern".  In "An einem lichten Morgen" we were treated to the metaphor of the loving sun addressing an opening flower.  Could this be 19th c. eroticism?

"Zwölf Gedichte Op. 37" comprised a dozen songs by the loving marital pair, settings all of Rückert's texts.  Clara's "Er ist Gekommen", sung by mezzo Kate Maroney, had some intense passion in the piano part, giving Michael Brofman (Founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Art Song Society) an opportunity to show the range of his formidable interpretive skills.  We have always adored Mahler's setting of "Liebst du um Schönheit" and were delighted to learn that Clara's setting is equally melodic, if not as well known.  Ms. Maroney sounded quite lovely.  Several of the songs were sung by baritone David Williams who has a pleasing tone and a nice lower register as heard in "Rose, Meer und Sonne".  We particularly enjoyed the Maroney-Williams duets, particularly the song that ended the first part of the program "So wahr die Sonne scheinet" with its gorgeous harmonies; the voices blended beautifully.

Accompanied for this set by pianist Spencer Myer, Ms. Maroney performed Frauenliebe un leben Op. 42.  She seemed most invested in the excitement of "Helft mir, ihr Schwestern" and "An meinem Herzen".  We have always been able to overlook the anti-feminism of Adelbert von Chamisso and to just enjoy the music.  The poetry of the early 19th c. scans and rhymes in a way that delights the ear and inspires some gorgeous vocal writing that we rarely hear in contemporary music.

The recital was made even better by the projection of texts in both German and English, a wise decision in our opinion.  But it was made somewhat less enjoyable by the use of music stands which imposed a barrier between the singer and the audience.  We understand the need for them in modern music in which the vocal line is unmelodic and the text doesn't scan.  But for music of this period we would have hoped that the singers would have  made the effort to memorize.  Perhaps that is asking too much.  One further thing that detracted from this delightful evening of song was the occasional mispronunciation of German vowels and consonants; it was probably of no consequence to 99% of the audience but our ears pick it up as much as we aim to shrug it off.

On the whole, it was a fine evening and we were thrilled to hear songs that have been overlooked in so many lieder recitals.  We will have still more gratitude for B.A.S.S. as they continue with Part III of Clara, Robert and Johannes on November 17th in another charming venue, the Firehouse in Williamsburg.

© meche kroop

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