|Joe Eletto and Bretton Brown|
With a stunning synergy between singer and collaborative pianist, fast-rising baritone Joe Eletto and piano wizard Bretton Brown presented a ravishing recital last night at Juilliard. Mr. Eletto is getting his Masters of Music degree and the recital was evidence of hard work layered onto innate talent.
The quality that struck us most about Mr. Eletto is his ability to mine each song for the gold of personal and idiosyncratic interpretation. Sometimes we hear a song so many times that our ears get fatigued and we don't really hear it. A fresh interpretation that gets us to hear the song anew is always welcome.
Let us take, for example, our favorite song of Robert Schumann's Liededrkreis, composed ten years after his famous year of prodigious songwriting. "Waldesgespräch" tells the story of a man riding through the woods late at night and encountering a witch--the "hexe Loreley". We have always heard it sung as if the man were a lecher and Loreley getting her revenge. Mr. Eletto portrayed the man as an innocent and Loreley as a very nasty witch preying on men. A fresh approach!
Mr. Eletto doesn't just sing a song. He appears to live it. From the same cycle he actually appeared to be keeping a secret in "Die Stille". The entire cycle was filled with meaning and drama, just what we wanted from an 18th c. Romantic composer who availed himself of the best poetry around--in this case by Joseph Eichendorff. To add to the pleasure, Mr. Brown brought out the sound of the wind in the treetops in "Schöne Fremde".
We could spill a lot of ink on each of these marvelous songs but there were other delights on the program which had a theme--an exploration of the manifestations of love. Mr. Eletto generously provided program notes comprising biographies of the composers and the poets as well as information on the particular cycles on the program.
He opened the program with a trio of selections from Mendelssohn's Sechs Gesänge. In the rather cheerful "Es lauschte das Laub so dunkelgrün" he brought out the sadness of the third stanza and similarly revealed all the moods of the letter-writer in "Die Liebende schreibt".
In Maurice Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, he acted up a storm although it never felt like acting; it felt as if he were spontaneously living it, and living it in consistently fine French, for which he has great facility. The devotion of "Chanson Romanesque" was followed by the prayerful "Chanson épique" and the rowdy "Chanson á boire" in which Mr. Brown's piano played a most important part.
Obsessive love was represented by Liszt's Tre Sonetti del Petrarca in which the 14th c. poet expresses undying and unrequited love for the mysterious Laura. In "Pace non trovo" Mr. Eletto seemed to experience more fire and ice than Cherubino does in "Non so più".
The celebrated contemporary composer John Musto wrote a cycle of songs entitled Viva Sweet Love in which he set two songs by e.e.cummings and three by James Laughlin. We liked all five poems but did not think the music, while interesting, did much to add to the poetry which, to our way of thinking, did not require music. But he wrote them and Mr. Eletto sang them well. Perhaps our favorite was "As is the Sea Marvelous" written by Cummings, as was "Sweet Spring".
By the lesser known Laughlin, we preferred "You came as a thought" which, while brief, seemed meaningful. "Rome: In the Café" told an interesting story whereas the lengthier "Sweet Spring" didn't have much to say.
With all of the intense drama onstage and all the profound emotions experienced, we did not fail to notice Mr. Eletto's vocal gifts. His resonant baritone never called attention to itself but was always used to serve the music. His phrasing was so natural that it seemed just part of his breathing. This gifted artist should go far!
(c) meche kroop