|Elza van den Heever (photo by Dario Acosta)|
Apparently, the 19th c. came late to South Africa but better late than never! Last night at the acoustically amazing Weill Recital Hall we were fortunate to hear a set of songs by South African composers--songs about nature, mainly--contrasting the wonders of the veld with the tumult of the big city. The program was part of Carnegie Hall's UBUNTU--a celebration of South Africa. The songs were sung by the lovely soprano Elza van den Heever whom we much admired and reviewed when she sang Elisabetta in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda at The Metropolitan Opera. The songs are gloriously melodic and stood up well next to the lieder by Brahms and Schumann that were also on the program.
Ms. van den Heever, in her recital debut, held the stage with a great deal of poise and has a bright penetrating soprano that seems comfortable in the high lying tessitura of the Händel arias with which she opened the program. Both "Mio caro bene" from Rodelinda and "Ah! crudel, il pianto mio" from Rinaldo offered her the opportunity to show the flexibility of her instrument in the lavish fioritura. Likewise she moved easily from one emotion to another in the various sections of each aria. Piano partner Vlad Iftinca similarly moved easily from one mood to another.
But it was in Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben that we were able to truly appreciate Mr. Iftinca's gifts, particularly in the postlude when the piano recalls the first meeting the young woman has with her husband to be. Many women have protested Adelbert von Chamisso's poetry in which a woman has no life beyond childbearing and marriage; when her husband dies, her life is over. But of course we recognize that this is an early 19th c. viewpoint and we don't care. We love the music and hope that the singer will convey the woman's progress from adolescence to mature adulthood.
Ms. van den Heever accomplished this reasonably well, although the wonder of the young woman in "Seit ich ihn gesehen" did not come through as well as we'd hoped, perhaps due to the slow tempo. Things picked up and by the time she got to the girl's wedding day in "Helft mir, ihr Schwestern" this rather reserved artist became excited and expressive, using her entire body, not just her voice and face. It is clearly a matter of taste, but we prefer our singers to involve their bodies. This expressive involvement was seen again in "An meinem Herzen, an meiner Brust" in which the young woman expresses the joys of motherhood. Likewise, her grief over her husband's death was quite moving in the final song "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan". And then came that stunning postlude!
The set of Fauré songs were beautifully sung. Ms. van den Heever's quietness served her well here and these delicate gems were sung with lovely long lean lines, as French should be sung and rarely is. We were particularly fond of the lilting "Les roses d'Ispahan" and "Clair de lune", in which Mr. Iftinca played the most gorgeous prelude.
A set of Brahms' songs was enjoyable, with more involvement of her personality. We loved "O komme, holde Sommernacht" and the bittersweet "Die Mainacht".
The set of songs in Afrikaans involved three composers: Stephanus Le Roux Marais, John K. Pescod, and Petrus Johannes Lemmer--all born in 1896 by strange coincidence. Perhaps in that year the planets were perfectly aligned for great music. We only wish that songs like these were being composed today.
We would like to see Ms. van den Heever let go a bit more so that the audience can share her involvement with the material. There is one other issue that hampers this lovely artist who has so much to offer. There was a problem with dynamic control. Her pianissimi were barely audible, her forte more like fortissimo; a smoother transition in dynamics would be welcome.
As encore, we heard Charles Ives' Memories--the pleasant memory of the opera house was given appropriate excitement and the nostalgic tune given appropriate melancholy. A second encore was yet another song in Afrikaans, the name of which we did not hear.
© meche kroop