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, December 8, 2014


Yevgeny Yontov, Miki Sawada, Evanna Chiew, Nicole Percifield, and Brian Vu

It is always an occasion when artists from the Yale School of Music visit New York City; last night at Weill Recital Hall songs from the collection of Frederick R. Koch were presented by three experienced graduate level singers and two collaborative pianists.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to hear more of expressive baritone Brian Vu whom we have previously heard only briefly and reviewed at various competition award recitals.  His first set comprised songs by Henri Duparc in which he got to show off his impeccable French diction and succeeded in involving us emotionally.  After a somewhat boring set of songs which preceded we were roused by the emotionalism of one of our favorite French songs, the mysterious "Le Manoir de Rosemonde".  The nightmare desperation of "La vague et la cloche" was equally compelling.  Miki Sawada's piano successfully evoked the raging ocean and the dreamer's desperation.

In another set he performed Robert Schumann's "Herbstlied, Op. 89, No. 3" and two songs by Hugo Wolf in perfect German.  As pointed out previously, if you want to write a good song you need good poetry and Heine's "Wie des Mondes Abbild Zittert" and Goethe's "Beherzigung" fall into that category.  Mr. Vu's mellow baritone and emotional involvement served him well and brought the songs to vivid life.  We are of the opinion that a lieder singer must be first and foremost a good storyteller. Mr. Vu definitely measures up to that criterion.  Our only criticism is that Mr. Yontov's piano, so evocative in the quiet passages, became rather heavy handed in the more passionate passages.

New to us was mezzo-soprano Evanna Chiew who performed three songs by Jean Sibelius with plenty of poise and stage presence.  Her very pleasing mezzo has a fine soprano-y bloom on top while the lower register remains firm and nicely textured. We cannot evaluate her Swedish diction but it sounded quite lovely

In another set of songs by Mahler, we were most impressed by the settings of texts from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.  Given a fine performance, there aren't many songs that delight us as much and Ms. Chiew gave her all in her interpretation of "Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald" and the humorous "Selbstgefühl". Her German diction was excellent.  We would welcome the opportunity to hear more of her.

We were somewhat less impressed by soprano Nicole Percifield who sang Debussy's Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire.  A couple nights earlier we heard these same songs performed at Juilliard in an entire evening devoted to Baudelaire.  Consequently we had a pretty good idea of how intensely moving these songs can be when sung with total involvement.  But last night, unfortunately, they all sounded exactly the same and the blandness failed to engage us.

Ms. Percifield has a bright soprano with perhaps a shade too much vibrato but the fault lay more in a lack of involvement, a lack of gesture and a lack of involvement. Her French diction was excellent and she made use of dynamic variety but there was definitely something missing.  We had hoped to hear more of her later in the program to learn if perhaps that was just the wrong material for her but those five songs were all we got.  Perhaps we will have another opportunity in the future.

© meche kroop

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