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.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Spencer Myer, Steven LaBrie, and Erin Wall

Sunday was the first recital of the season for the George London Foundation with the lovely Nora London present as usual. One of the greatest aspects of the George London Foundation is that if one returns year after year (preferably as a subscriber) one gets to observe the artistic growth of the competition winners when they are invited back to give a recital.

This season got off to a splendid start with baritone Steven LaBrie joining soprano Erin Wall for a program so satisfying that we don't know where to start.

So, let's start at the end because we do so love a good duet. As seen in the above photo, this talented duo delighted the audience with "Lippen schweigen" from Franz Lehar's Die lustige Witwe, also known as The Merry Widow. There was quite nice chemistry in evidence in this wonderful waltz. We were wishing the pair would soon perform the entire operetta.

Mr. LaBrie's voice has been expanding, deepening and darkening since we first heard him several years ago.  It was just right for "Prince Yeletsky's Aria" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, otherwise known as Queen of Spades. This is an aria that we like better with every hearing and we cannot recall hearing it better sung. The messa di voce at the end was gorgeous.

Mexican songs are very high on our list of delights and Mr. LaBrie treated us to an entire set of them. Although we are equally fond of zarzuela, what we love about Mexican song is the sound of New World Spanish, as opposed to the sibilant sounds of Castilian Spanish. 

In "Dime que si" by Alfonso Esparza Oteo, Spencer Myer's piano provided the rhythmic thrust. Agustín Lara's "Humo en los ojos" was our personal favorite both for its sentiment and its melodic line. Maria Greever's much recorded "Júrame" had a lovely rhyme scheme for the singer and some potent rhythm in the piano.

Mr. LaBrie also sang a collection of songs by Claude Debussy La mer est plus belle--Ballades de François Villon. One could discern a foreshadowing of Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. The first song was filled with passion and bitterness, the second with religious devotion, and the third with humor and wit. Mr. LaBrie captured the various moods successfully.

Erin Wall is a polished performer with plenty of presence onstage. She has a wonderful instrument with a bright bloom in the upper register that is exactly right for the songs of Richard Strauss. We could not say that we liked his Gesänge des Orients as well as some of his more frequently performed songs but they received a marvelous delivery from Ms. Wall. Actually, we could not discern what these songs had to do with Asia. There must be a story there!

Our preference was for the extravagant sentiment in "Schwung", an encomium to Bacchus; we also enjoyed the tender "Liebesgeschenke".

Ms. Wall also brought Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Drei Lieder to life. "Was Du mir bist" had a romantic flavor.  "Mit Dir zu schweigen" was made meaningful by her expressive dynamics.  But our favorite was "Welt ist stille eingeschlafen" which showed off the artist's expansive upper register and offered a delicate decrescendo at the conclusion.

"No Word from Tom" from Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress was marked by superlative diction.  Rarely do we understand every word sung in the upper register but here we did.  Poor Ann Trulove is steadfast (as her name implies) in her love for Tom Rakewell and here defies her father. It was intense!

It was an altogether satisfying program encompassing both the familiar and the unusual. 

(c) meche kroop

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