|Theo Lebow, Michael Barrett, Corinne Winters and Alexey Lavrov with Steven Blier at the piano|
We have just spent a couple hours reading Steven Blier's program notes from last night's New York Festival of Song recital Letters from Spain: A World of Song in Spanish Poetry. Mr. Blier's talents go way beyond playing the piano, arranging, translating, curating and coaching young singers. He is also an educator and has generously shared the fruits of his research. We learned a great deal about Europe's fascination with Iberian poetry and the many composers who set diverse works to music, from the simplest folk melodies to the most elaborate compositional efforts.
We have simple taste and favor folk melodies that tickle the ear and stick in the brain. That being said, the entire program was worthwhile and the three singers, while not Spanish, did a superlative job of transmitting the Spanish flavor. It is not only Russian music that delves into suffering; they have plenty of competition from Spain in its cante jondo.
One of the most fascinating items on the program was the opening song "Todos duermen, corazón" which Robert Schumann set to music in its German translation--known as "In der Nacht". But Mr. Blier observed that the scansion of the original Spanish worked equally well with the music and that is what we heard; and that was what charmed us. Soprano Corinne Winters and tenor Theo Lebow joined voices in gorgeous harmony which alternated with overlapping melodies. Schumann's piano writing here sounded strangely baroque. We loved it!
Baritone Alexey Lavrov poured his passion into another Schumann song, this one in the German of Emanuel von Geibel--"Geständnis". Mr. Lavrov does passion very well as we learned in Tchaikovsky's "Don Juan's Serenade", a setting of text by Tolstoy. One can't go wrong with Tolstoy! Lest one conclude that Mr. Lavrov only sings passionate songs, a charming Shostakovich song "Little Stars" was given every ounce of humor called for, in what began life as a folk song.
This was by far our favorite Shostakovich song since the following ones struck us as a bit ponderous or filled with suffering. Nonetheless, the melismatic singing in "Farewell Granada!" was absolutely amazing.
Ms. Winters's singing was captivating. Her delivery is slightly on the side of restraint and we found her very much in tune with Hugo Wolf whose "Geh', Geliebter, geh' jetzt", is yet another adaptation of Spanish poetry by von Geibel. The singer in the song is bidding a reluctant farewell to her lover at dawn in order to avoid scandal.
We also thrilled to her delivery of "Se equivocó la paloma" one of several songs by the Argentinian Carlos Guastavino, of whom we cannot hear enough. This song is a setting of text by the Spanish writer Rafael Alberti who fled Spain for Argentina. Mr. Blier, always wonderful at shedding light on the songs he curates, introduced the song by explaining that the dove in the song was not romantically deceived but politically deceived.
Her performance of the next two Guastavino songs was no less wonderful--the austere "La palomita" and "Elegía" with its heraldic sound in the piano. Perhaps it was our imagination but we thought Ms. Winters sang it with an Argentinian accent! There was no mistaking the Catalonian dialect of "Elegía eterna" by the beloved Enrique Granados. In this song, every element of nature is in love with another element that favors yet another. No love is requited. Ms. Winters sang it with deep feeling.
Mr. Lebow gave alternating delicacy and passion to Hugo Wolf's "Qué producirá mi Dios" evincing astute dynamic control. He also sang a set of songs drawn from William Bolcom's Canciones de Lorca. The dense piano writing required two pianos and four hands in "Alba" with Michael Barrett joining Mr. Blier. The piano writing in "Soneta de la dulce queja" was contrastingly spare. Mr. Lebow adapted his voice readily. We enjoyed the dance rhythm of "El poeta llega a la Habana".
"Zorongo", another poem by Garcia Lorca was set by Anton Garcia Abril, a 20th c. composer. Mr. Lavrov did justice to the passion and the tenderness as Lorca wrote of his love for a man--quite a risky situation in his time and place.
The Renaissance chant "Ay, trista vida corporal!" was sung a capella by Mr. Lebow to stunning effect. The melismatic parts revealed an Arabic influence.
The ensemble joined for the lighthearted tonadilla "El tripili" from an 18th c. zarzuela and for the beautiful encore "Anhelo", Guastavino's setting of a text by Domingo Zerpa. It was a simple folky tune and just our cup of ....sangria!
(c) meche kroop