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.

Friday, January 31, 2014


Alice Coote
Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and collaborative pianist Graham Johnson gave a highly pleasurable recital last night in Zankel Hall.  We have enjoyed Ms. Coote at The Metropolitan Opera in Two Boys and in Der Rosenkavlier, but last night we felt that we got to know her prodigious talent in a new way.  For one thing, she has a consummately expressive warmth in her voice; she seems to caress each word and imbue it with color.  For another thing, her French diction rivals that of a native French speaker.

Instead of performing a set of songs by each composer, she grouped together songs with similar moods.  She appeared onstage in a black pants outfit with a gossamer black and white coat on top and sang songs of nostalgic love.  When singing of rapturous love, a vibrant fuschia coat replaced it; when singing of mournful love she exchanged it for a black coat.  It was not just a fashion exercise; it reflected the way she "wore" each song and made it her own.  This variety ensured that an evening of chanson and mélodie would never be perceived as boring or effete. 

Mr. Johnson is a quiet pianist and perfectly captured the delicacy of the music without compromising the harmonic richness.  He never overwhelmed the voice and never went in for showiness.  We loved his piano work in Saint-Saëns "Soirée en mer" as we heard the rowing and the swelling of the waves.

Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod wrote some of the earlier pieces on the program.  Gounod's "Sérénade" in waltz time was one of our favorites of the evening with Ms. Coote's  beautifully executed runs and the lovely text by Victor Hugo.  Berlioz' "Spectre de la Rose", a setting of text by Théophile Gautier, delighted us with its charming story and wide vocal leaps.

Later songs by Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson, Camille Saint-Saëns, Emmanuel Chabrier, Alfred Bachelet, Claude Debussy, Reynaldo Han, Erik Satie and Charles Koechlin made up most of the remaining program.  Songs that stood out for us were Hahn's delicate "L'heure exquise" with text by Paul Verlaine, his languid "Fumée" (text by Jean Moréas) and his morose "La chère blessure" (text by Augustine-Malvina Blanchecotte.  Chausson's "Le Temps des lilas" with the sadly nostalgic text by Maurice Bouchor simply broke our heart. And Satie's "Je te veux" with text by Henry Pacory absolutely charmed us with its sumptuous melody.

Songs by Francis Poulenc were the most modern of the evening.  True Gallic nostalgia was evinced by the program opener "Les chemins de l'amour" with text by Jean Anouilh.  Poulenc's music also closed the program with texts by Guillaume Apollinaire--the lively "Voyage à Paris" and the langorous "Hôtel" being our favorites.

Zankel Hall is a mid-sized venue and lends itself to voice and piano recitals far more than Stern Auditorium.  The only thing that interrupted the feeling of intimacy was Ms. Coote's performance "on the book".  We kept hoping she would ditch the music stand but she did not.  We were somewhat surprised that titles were not projected.  The lights were quite dim and we noticed many in the audience squinting at the printed translations.  We guess that the majority are not French speakers and wanted to understand the text. And who could fault them for that!

Ⓒ meche kroop

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