|Jinhee Park, Ava Nazar, Theo Hoffman, Samuel Levine, Kelsey Lauritano, Fan Jia, Ho Jae Lee, and Erika Switzer|
Thursday's Liederabend at Juilliard, coached by Erika Switzer, was a stunning event offering multiple delights. We feel compelled to begin at the end, at which point baritone Theo Hoffman's performance of Viktor Ullmann's "Abendphantasie" segued directly into Gustav Mahler's lied "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen". It was the only piece on the program that we know well and we seemed to be greeting an old friend who never looked so fine.
Mr. Hoffman is a consummate artist and his depth of understanding of the text revealed to us, in a new and profound way, the very particular situation of the creative artist and his need for solitude. We felt as if Mahler himself had taken the stage and was telling us about his creative passion. The melody and harmony are exquisite and collaborative pianist Ho Jae Lee captured the nuances as effectively as Mr. Hoffman. Had we trekked up to Juilliard and heard that one song we would have been satisfied.
The remainder of the program was unfamiliar and seemed challenging for the artists and the audience. We asked tenor Samuel Levine about the difficulty of performing the 20th c. Five Sonette an Orpheus by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. To us, the vocal line seemed abstract but Mr. Levine was very comfortable with the work and knew it well.
He employed multiple colors in his voice. We preferred the gentle "Und fast ein Mädchen wars" and the somewhat more melodic "Errichtet keinen Denkstein". Jinhee Park was Mr. Levine's piano partner. We may never have another opportunity to hear this cycle of songs and were happy for the experience although they will never be among our favorites.
The remainder of the program comprised two cycles by Poulenc. Baritone Fan Jia, accompanied by CP Kathryn Felt, created his own art gallery with Le travail du peintre, in which Paul Eluard's text was brought to life. We couldn't help thinking of Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, since the text described paintings by seven 20th c. painters.
It came as no surprise that our favorite chanson was the one about Marc Chagall who is our favorite modern painter. In line with the playful surrealism of the artwork, Poulenc's music and Eluard's text were equally playful, as was Mr. Jia's delivery. He has a muscular baritone which he modulated dynamically to suit each piece, be it playful or serious, quiet or vigorous.
Mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano performed Poulenc's "Poèmes de Ronsard". She is one of those singers who excels at storytelling. She was frisky in "Attributs", relating what is sacred to each of the goddesses. We enjoyed Ava Nazar's syncopated piano in "Le tombeau". But our favorite part was a song that we are sure Ms. Lauritano favors above the others--"Ballet". Her personality just shone.
Happily, everyone's French and German were both excellent and performances were so polished that no one's technique called attention away from the music, which was well served by everyone.
But it's the Mahler we can't get out of our mind and our ears.
(c) meche kroop