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, December 11, 2014


Babette Hierholzer, Elizabeth Wimmer and Nils Neubert

Kim Smith

Two major musical events on one snowy Wednesday night!  Only in New York.  Finding out that the two very different events were related tickled us no end.

We began the evening with a recital presented by the German Forum, a worthy foundation which had strangely escaped our attention.  Their goals are consonant with ours and we were delighted to have "discovered" them.  Their mission is to introduce emerging European artists--both vocal and instrumental--to the New York audience.  What is unique about the German Forum is that vocal and instrumental repertoire are presented on the same program and also that expert speakers are chosen to introduce the programs and to provide interesting insights into the compositions.

Among this group of speakers we recognized several of our favorite people:  Ira Siff, Margaret Juntwait, Ken Benson and August Ventura.  Among the artists presented over the last ten years were Nathalie Mittelbach, Michael Kelly, and (drum roll please) cabaret artist Kim Smith whom we had scheduled to review later that evening!  Only in New York!!!!

The German Forum recital, a musical tribute to Alma Mahler's famous composer friends, was introduced by Donna Drewes, Associate Professor of the Humanities at New York University.  She is an excellent speaker and spoke of Alma Mahler's role as muse.  Her life touched the lives of many composers of the early 20th c. and she herself, taught by Alexander von Zemlinsky, composed a wealth of lieder until husband number one, Gustav Mahler, insisted she stop.  Many fascinating details of her rather racy life were touched upon before the music began.

Songs by conductor Bruno Walter (who knew!), Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, Joseph Marx, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Leonard Bernstein, and Alma Mahler herself were sung by soprano Elizabeth Wimmer, whom we were delighted to hear for the first time, and tenor Nils Neubert whom we have reviewed at least thrice in the past two years. Hearing lieder sung by native German speakers was a special treat.

Ms. Wimmer has a lovely bright soprano with some beautifully floated top notes and a lot of skill as a storyteller. She can decrescendo to a delicate pianissimo and effectively handled the high tessitura in the Korngold.  But what we enjoyed the most was her storytelling in Gustav Mahler's songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. We are very fond of melody and have been humming the charming "Rheinlegendchen" all night.

Mr. Neubert has not lost the sweet freshness of his voice that we previously so admired.  His performance of Mahler's "Ich atmet einen Linden Duft" touched us deeply, especially when he floated the high note.  His voice has an expressive tenderness with which he conveys subtle nuances.  We loved the repetitive phrase "Irmelin Rose" in the Zemlinsky lied of the same name.

The collaborative pianist was Artistic Director of the German Forum Babette Hierholzer. We always appreciate a pianist who supports the singers without overwhelming them. The piano parts in the Post-Romantic period are quite different from those of the 19th c. and are often compelling in their own right.  We have remarked on this recently on the occasion of hearing lieder by Joseph Marx and noticed the same effect on all of the composers heard last night.

We would like to mention the fine work of the Lysander Piano Trio comprising Itamar Zorman violinist, Michael Katz cellist, and Liza Stepanova pianist.  We heard them in various combinations, as well as violist Edward Klorman who was so expressive in Marx's "Durch Einsamkeiten" along with Mr. Neubert.

Mr. Katz was eloquent in Zemlinsky's "Lied" and rhythmically on point in the rowdy "Tarantell".  Mr. Zorman impressed with his performance of Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesleid" accompanied by Ms. Stepanova; the waltz was performed with delicious rubato.  Ms. Hierholzer and Ms. Stepanova performed a few pieces from Arnold Schoenberg's youth--Six Pieces for piano 4 hand, of which our favorite was the third--quite melodic with an interesting texture.  Hearing it made us regret his so-called "advance" into atonality.

The Scherzo from Strauss' Piano Quartet in C minor op. 13 was given a spirited performance; the short motivic phrases bookended a lovely lyrical central section. Ms. Wimmer and Mr. Neubert closed the program with a duet from Bernstein's West Side Story.  Mr. Neubert bears no trace of accent in English but Ms. Wimmer sang with a very slight and very charming accent that served to affirm that Maria and Tony came from two different cultures.

As yet unaware that our favorite cabaret artist Kim Smith was one of the artists presented in the past by the German Forum, we hustled down to the far western reaches of Manhattan to the McKittrick Hotel for a late night set.  As an opera lover, we most enjoyed his very personal delivery of Kurt Weill's "Pirate Jenny" from the Three Penny Opera.  Marc Blitzstein penned the English lyrics.  Gershwin's "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess was given a unique performance as only Mr. Smith could devise.  He is always compelling to see and to hear.  We have enjoyed him more in a theatrical environment without all the rowdy drinkers one gets in a bar. He is an artist who deserves one's full attention.

(c) meche kroop

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