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.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Michael Hey, Magda Gartner, Babette Hierholzer, Äneas Humm, Alexander Liebermann, and Henry Meyer-Oertel

Those who love German culture (count us in!) should be aware of the exciting events programmed by the German Forum, of which Henry Meyer-Oertel is President and Babette Hierholzer is Artistic Director. This worthwhile organization gives young German-speaking artists the opportunity to perform in New York City. We have attended several of their events and have always enjoyed them immensely.

Last night we were introduced to two excellent new singers, a highly talented organist, a 20th c. Swiss composer, and a contemporary composer whose work we actually loved (surprise!); we also enjoyed a lovely cocktail hour with German delicacies. Food for the spirit and food for the body!

Most astonishing of all is the 20-year-old lyric baritone Äneas Humm whose talent surpasses his youth by a huge factor. It is a beautiful instrument with lovely overtones; the manner in which he employs it indicates a great deal of serious study. A Züricher, he is already well known in Europe.  Last night was his New York debut.

He showed vocal expressiveness in two songs by Edvard Grieg and a trio of songs by the 20th c. Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck, a composer to whom we were thrilled to be introduced. Having gone online to amend our ignorance we discovered that he wrote several hundred songs. We can only hope that other singers will avail themselves of this vast collection. The three we heard were lovely, with our favorite being the melodic "Nachklang" with text by von Eichendorff.

Mr. Humm gave a tender performance of "O du mein holder Abendstern", from Wagner's Tannhaüser, exhibiting fine dynamic variety and coloring. Babette Hierholzer accompanied him beautifully on the piano. From Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore, he sang "Come Paride vezzoso" with substantial control of the phrases at the lower end of the register and a nice facility with the fioritura. He made a very good attempt at portraying the arrogant Belcore but his gentle nature kept poking through.

He also sang a pair of songs by the prolific Viktor Ullmann who died tragically during the Holocaust. This is another composer who merits more attention from singers. Mr. Humm sang two songs from The Songbook of Hafis, translated from Farsi and dealing with the jolly and tragic aspects of alcoholism.

As if this were not enough, we heard the world premier of "Le Fugitif" by the gifted young composer Alexander Liebermann. Readers may recall how much dissatisfaction we have expressed with contemporary songwriting and will be surprised to learn that we loved this song, not only the piano writing but the satisfying melodic vocal line. The French text was beautifully sung by Mr. Humm. We want to hear more from Mr. Liebermann!

French seemed to be the language of choice for mezzo-soprano Magda Gartner who excelled in her "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen and also in "Nobles seigneurs" from Giacomo Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. Her French was superb.

We enjoyed "Sei wir wieder gut" from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos and also two arias in Italian from this tri-lingual artist. She graciously introduced us to two of Mozart's ladies going off the deep end. We heard Donna Elvira's "Ah! Fuggi il traditor!" from Don Giovanni which showed off her bright upper register and then Dorabella's difficult aria "Smanie implacabili" from Cosi fan tutte, in which she captured the character's adolescent angst.

We do not consider ourself to be a fan of organ music but we were definitely dazzled by the artistry of Michael Hey who is establishing an impressive career since graduating from Juilliard last year.  He "let out all the stops" (sorry about that) in Léon Boëllmann's "Toccata" from Suite Gothique and in Max Reger's "Phantasy on chorale" which reminded us of Phantom of the Opera.  

He also gave a nuanced reading of J.S. Bach's "Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele".

We always enjoy Ms. Hierholzer's collaboration, giving each artist a fine partnership and being particularly attuned to the varying demands of the music.

This was an almost overwhelming recital, stuffed with delectable goodies. We always enjoy discovering new music and new artists. We are feeling grateful to the German Forum for providing this experience.

(c) meche kroop

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