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.

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Erika Switzer, Jazimina MacNeil, Michael Brofman, Michael Kelly, Tyler Duncan
1840 was a great year for Robert Schumann.  His legal battle with Friedrich Wieck  was won and he married his beloved Clara; he composed three impressive song cycles which were presented last night at Bargemusic by the Brooklyn Art Song Society which is also having a great year, garnering praise from the press for its thoughtful programs.  In spite of the rain, wind, flooding and subway delays, the floating barge was filled with lovers of lieder who maintained exquisite silence the better to hear three gifted interpreters give their all.

The program opened with Tyler Duncan who performed the nine songs of Liederkreis von Heinrich Heine, Opus 24.  Along with collaborative pianist Erika Switzer, he conveyed the many moods in a most pleasing baritone.  The songs are about love--the anticipation, the sorrows, the bitterness of disappointment; Mr. Duncan did well conveying the passionate anger in the penultimate verse of "Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden", the bitterness of "Warte, warte, wilder Schiffman" and the gentleness of the final song "Berg' und Burgen schaun herunter".  The final verse of the latter draws a comparison between the lover and a river that conceals darkness and death in its depth--a painful ending to be sure.  Ms. Switzer matched his skill continually and beautifully conveyed the pounding of the poet's heart in "Lieb' Liebchen, leg's Hänchen".

Mezzo-soprano Jazimina MacNeil did equal justice to Liederkreis von Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, Opus 39.  From the first phrase of "In der Fremde", one could sense her total immersion in the text with its profound feeling of alienation.  A quick change to bliss followed in "Intermezzo".  Our personal favorite was "Waldesgesprächt" which permitted Ms. MacNeil to change colors from the seductiveness of the man and the revenge of the witch Loreley.  We also loved the joy of "Die Stille" and the gentle expansiveness of "Mondnacht".  There was not a single false note in the emotional content.

Ms. Switzer also got to show her stuff especially in the different types of rustling.  In "Schöne Fremde", the treetops rustle and we heard a different sort of rustling of the brooklet in "In der Fremde".  Hunting horns could be heard in "Im Walde" and the excitement of triumph was heard as the cycle ends with the poet claiming his beloved.  There was one heart-stopping moment of the cycle in "Auf einer Burg" which limns the stone statue with ponderous chords, evokes a wedding party then in one line mentions that the bride is weeping.  One is left with unresolved feelings as the music never quite resolves.  Piano and voice just seem to hang there suspended.

The final cycle of this generous program comprised baritone Michael Kelly's performance of Dichterliebe, Op. 48, setting of texts by Heinrich Heine.  From the very first phrase we recognized the voice of an artist.  His light baritone has a beautiful tenorial quality and was employed with a depth of expression that left us hanging on every word.  Mr. Kelly somehow manages to caress each word as if he could taste it; and therefore we do as well.  The excitement of "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" was palpable.  The ponderousness of the cathedral in Köln could be felt as well as the tenderness toward the Virgin Mary.  The false gaiety and irony of "Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen" could not be missed, nor the hyperbole of the burial of the angry old songs in a huge coffin in the final song "Die alten, bösen Lieder".

Mr. Kelly's totally fulfilling performance involved Michael Brofman, the Founder and Director of the Brooklyn Art Song Society, as collaborative pianist, a role in which he too shines brightly.  We particularly liked his work in "Ich will meine Seele tauchen" and his fleet fingering in "Und wüssten's die Blumen"; he brought out the lyricism of the memorable melody of "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" that we cannot get out of our head.  The two artists make a fine pair!

What a wonderful programming feat it was to assemble three magnificent song cycles and three magnificent singers to share them with the audience!  As long as Mr. Brofman and BASS are around we do not have to worry about the future of art songs in the USA.  Long may they thrive!

© meche kroop

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