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.

Saturday, March 21, 2015


Michael Brofman, Joseph Gaines, Kelvin Chan, Jocelyn Dueck, Kate Maroney, Miori Sugiyama and Justine Aronson

We have long been fans of Brooklyn Art Song Society (BASS) and have always enjoyed Justine Aronson's scintillating soprano.  We were delighted to learn that they were performing in Manhattan and more than happy to brave the final snow of the season, as was the crowd in the packed house.

Usually, the programs are curated by Artistic Director and pianist par excellence Michael Brofman.  Last night at the Tenri Cultural Institute, the program was given over to venerable composer Daron Hagen. Understandably, his own compositions occupied the major part of the program with the remainder chosen by him.

We listened to Mr. Hagen's instrumental compositions in advance and liked his writing. Although last night we enjoyed some of his vocal writing, much of it was not to our taste.

The program opened with three selections from Schubert's Winterreise, one of our favorite song cycles. They were performed by tenor Joseph Gaines who has a pleasant sound but indulges in some pretty distracting grimacing.  We found his delivery of "Mut!" a bit heavy-handed.  The hero of the cycle is meant to be putting up a cheerful front to hide his underlying grief.  Mr. Gaines' forceful delivery seemed unidimensional and missed the sorrow.

He was far better in "Die Nebensonnen" and evinced a lovely plaintive vibrato.  Miori Sugiyama's collaborative piano was highly sensitive and we particularly enjoyed her work in "Der Leiermann".

What followed was Mr. Hagen's cycle After Words (2013).  Speaking from the audience, he told us that this was supposed to be two angels witnessing life on earth and commenting on Winterreise.  Sorry to say, but Schubert's masterwork does not require comment!  And a work of art should not need an explanation.  We failed to see any cohesion that would constitute a cycle.

In the first song, the piano line often echoed Schubert's "Der Leiermann". Further entries in the cycle were settings of texts by Seamus Heaney whose free "verse" did not resonate with us.

We did enjoy the piano writing in "The Rain Stick" and found the vocal line of "Rimas - X" to be quite lovely as Ms. Aronson and Mr. Gaines went back and forth from Spanish to English.  Text was by RubĂ©n Dario.

His Larkin Songs (2001) were purported to be about Larkin's life but we had trouble relating to the cycle.  There was something about the prose that failed to achieve universality.  That being said, we enjoyed the punchy humor of "Interlude #1" expressing irony about the reading public.  And we especially enjoyed Mr. Brofman's piano which reflected the delicacy of the vocal line in "Going".  But for the most part the verbal cadences of the text did not lend themselves to a musical vocal line.

This cycle was performed beautifully by baritone Kelvin Chan who also did a fine job with Hugo Wolf's Michelangelo Lieder, accompanied by Mr. Brofman's powerful performance on the piano.

In the second half of the program, we heard some of Mr. Hagen's cabaret songs, sung with panache by mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney, ably accompanied by Jocelyn Dueck. She has a nice easy dramatic style and in the duets with Mr. Gaines sounded just fine .  Our favorite of Mr. Hagen's works was "You Don't Fall Up You Fall Down" from I Hear America Singing (2014).  We also enjoyed Mr. Gaines' performance of "I Believe in Song" also from the same cycle. What a fine motto for an evening of song!

His "The New Yorkers" (2011) attempted to show an Upper West Side couple's development over four decades from "We can beat New York at its own game" to "We can love New York". We might have enjoyed it if there had been more specificity about the couple's experience.

Songs from Benjamin Britten's Cabaret Songs were also on the program--the oft-performed "Tell Me the Truth About Love" and "Funeral Blues".

This is the third time this week that we have attended song recitals in which so-called "art songs" shared a program with "popular songs". This seems like a trend. For our taste we like our "art songs" most when they have endured from the 19th c.

(c) meche kroop

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