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 13, 2016


Alex Rosen, Julia Wolcott, Onadek Winan, Maria Brea, and Thomas West

Everything about yesterday's liederabend at Juilliard delighted us--the entire program was in German and, since it was coached by Brian Zeger, the German diction was excellent and not a word was slighted. The choice of composers included our favorites and the young artists performed them well, each with his/her own style.

We haven't spoken to Mr. Zeger about this but we suspect that he encourages each singer to honor his/her own performance style and each one seemed comfortable with his/her own choice. There is no right or wrong in lieder performance.  Some artists are highly expressive and make ample use of gesture to get across the meaning of the text. Others are more reserved and rely on vocal colors and the barest minimum of dramatic expression.  We can appreciate the entire spectrum.

Soprano Maria Brea opened the program and we enjoyed her highly expressive style in a half dozen songs by Richard Strauss. Not only did she employ ample gesture but used her facial expression to fine effect.  Even her eyes danced along with the music. Her bright tone was just right for Strauss. 

She opened the set with the sprightly "Wozu noch, Mädchen" and invested the final repetition of the opening verse with sufficient variation. She captured the sensuality of "Breit' über mein Haupt". The blind hope of "Hoffen und wieder verzagen" was made clear; the closing "Mein Herz ist stumm, mein Herz ist kalt" had appropriately chilly colors. Collaborative pianist Nathan Raskin provided excellent dynamic support.

Baritone Thomas West performed a quintet of songs by Brahms--songs with which we are unfamiliar--from Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32.  Most of the Brahms songs that we love are of a folksy nature; these songs are quite serious and deal with more complex and troubling emotions.

Mr. West is an artist of the more reserved type, employing an economy of gesture and relying predominantly on vocal colors to convey the mood. That he translated the songs himself lent a word-by-word authenticity to his performance.  In "Wie rafft ich mich auf", Brahms repeats certain phrases and Mr. West handled this beautifully. His piano partner Jinhee Park evinced ample strength.

We particularly enjoyed the final song "Wie bist du, meine Königen", a more romantic affair to be sure, and a lied which permitted Mr. West to use a lighter tender tone, especially in the final verse. Every time he repeated "Wonnevoll!" we felt an inner smile.

Bass Alex Rosen performed a pair of serious songs by Schubert, lieder with opposing spiritual values. In "Prometheus" Goethe's text speaks of anger toward Zeus; the cynicism is so thick you could cut it with a knife.  In "Grenzen der Menschheit", the same poet speaks with spiritual reverence.

Mr. Rosen captured both attitudes and did it with low notes to spare. Collaborative pianist Chérie Roe made a powerful statement throughout.

Some genie must have read our Friday night review of the Brooklyn Art Song Society in which we expressed the wish for more songs by Joseph Marx to appear on recital programs.  How delighted we were that soprano Julia Wolcott performed four of them! Although he came along a generation after Strauss, his music is entirely accessible and melodic. Ms. Wolcott's performance was lovely and her instrument brilliant in tone.

We had heard two of the songs "Nocturne" and "Selige Nacht" Friday night and had enjoyed them entirely. How delightful to hear them again. Piano partner Dror Baitel enjoyed the dazzling runs of the former and Ms. Wolcott clearly enjoyed the sensuality of the latter, which has become one of our favorites. It is interesting that Otto Erich Hartleben wrote the text for both of them.

Soprano Onadek Winan closed the program with four selections from Strauss' Brentano-Lieder, Op. 68. which she translated herself; this lent an immediacy to her performance. Our ears feasted on her beautiful tone and our eyes on a lovely stage presence.

In "An die Nacht" piano partner Ho Jae Lee's passion matched hers.  But our favorite is always "Amor" in which she gave a charming reading and some stunning vocal fireworks.  Mr. Lee's piano was particularly fine in "Als mir dein Lied erklang".  This summed up the recital for us--"Your song rang out to me"!  Indeed, these five singers managed, in 80 minutes, to erase an entire day's cares.  Long live music.  Long live song!

(c) meche kroop

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