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.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


Thomas Muraco and Virginie Verrez

The Art Song Preservation Society of New York (ASPS) is dedicated to promoting the art song repertoire and those who sing it.  Opportunities for artistic development, education and performance are offered, as well as an annual competition and winner's recital in honor of Mary Trueman.  This year's winner is the dazzling mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez who yesterday presented a most impressive recital with famed conductor, coach and collaborative pianist Thomas Muraco.

At the moment you are reading this it is likely that Ms. Verrez is onstage at The Metropolitan Opera as a finalist in the Met National Council Awards.  As we told her, it seemed gratuitous to wish her good luck because she can make it on artistry alone. Every time we hear her sing we are enthralled.

Mr. Muraco is also well known to us as a brilliant conductor but this is the first time we have heard and experienced his artistry at the piano and it is just as remarkable. The two artists appeared to breathe together throughout the afternoon with the voice seeming to float just above the piano line.

The program opened with Ottavia's fiery aria from Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea in which the queen lets loose her anger at men (particularly her unfaithful husband Nerone) and her bitter anguish over the victimhood of women. Her delivery was riveting.  At a certain level of artistry we lose awareness of the technique (the tone, the phrasing, the diction); we become lost in the poetry and the way the music enhances and amplifies it.

We always enjoy Brahms' Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103 for its tunefulness, its variety of moods, and its romantic vision of gypsy life.  Our favorite of the cycle was the sweet and flirtatious "Wisst ihr, wann mein Kindchen am aller schönsten ist?"  Our pair of artists made the most of this work and extracted every ounce of color.

It was a special treat to hear chanson performed by a native French speaker.  We enjoyed the early 20th c. Banalités of Poulenc more than ever before, especially the languorous "Hôtel" and the frisky "Voyage à Paris". The mysterious piano prelude to "Sanglots" was particularly lovely.

Two gems by master songsmith Henri Duparc were performed.  "L'Invitation au voyage" was exactly what the text indicated--calm, luxurious and beautiful.

We have always enjoyed Joseph Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne but this was our first exposure to the cycle Chants de France. The work has the charm of folksong but, as by the pen of Brahms, was given greater import by the intricacy of the piano writing.  We loved the tuneful "Auprès de ma blonde" and cannot get it out of our head.  The moving "Où irai-je me plaindre?" was heartbreaking.  Was it the way Canteloube wrote it or the way Maestro Muraco played it when we actually heard the rossignol singing?

The surprise of the afternoon was the cycle Paper Wings, composed by Jake Heggie to texts by....none other than Frederica von Stade!  Who knew!  "Mitten Smitten" was delightfully whimsical and "A Route to the Sky" given a bluesy mood.  We do not often favor contemporary song in English but the performance created the appreciation.

As if we were not sufficiently enchanted, we got an encore--Poulenc's "Les chemins de l'amour" with text by Jean Anouilh, written for Yvonne Printemps.  It sounded as if it had been written for Ms. Verrez!

We refer you to www.artsongpreservationsocietyny.org for information on their future recitals and upcoming master classes, of which there are many.  We like their motto..."Where music speaks and words sing". We couldn't agree more!

(c) meche kroop

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