|Myra Huang, Susanna Phillips, and Alicia Lee
We have enjoyed and written about soprano Susanna Phillips for a few years, having been particularly delighted by her superb portrayal of The Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro at the Santa Fe Opera. There have been two prior recitals as well--one 3 1/2 years ago at Weill Recital Hall and another shortly afterward at The Morgan Library, as part of the George London Foundation vocal series. Yesterday at Zankel Hall, Ms. Phillips carried the afternoon recital by herself, Eric Owens having canceled due to illness.
When all is said and done we have formed the opinion that Ms. Phillips comes across best when she has something dramatic to work with, be it opera or a dramatic song, There is nothing wrong with her recitals (except an inconsistency with the final consonants in German and the nasal vowels of French); it's just a lack of excitement that we hear in her operatic performances.
In yesterday's recital at Zankel Hall, the excitement came and went along with the vocal colors of any particular song. The heavy drama of Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (thanks to a text by Goethe) brought out the soprano's palette of colors as she built to an intensity of desire.
Similarly, in comedic songs, her dramatic ability was put to good advantage. The irony of "Die Männer sind méchant", from the same set by Schubert, came through loud and clear. The lengthy "Viola" tells the story of the tiny violet which blooms early at the behest of the snowdrop and is left waiting at the altar for her bridegroom Spring who has yet to arrive. The metaphor is intense and Ms. Phillips captured it well with exceptional beauty, especially the verse in which the violet realizes she is alone.
The lighthearted "Dans un bois solitaire" by Mozart was marked by lovely French phrasing, if not perfect pronunciation of the nasal vowels.
Grétry's "Certain coucou" from Le Jugement de Midas is a familiar tale to those who have heard the Mahler version. Ms. Phillips had a great time with this song, hooting like the owl, braying like the donkey, chirping like the cuckoo, and finally dazzling us with the glorious embellishments of the ignored nightingale. We have heard her perform this before and were thrilled to hear it again.
The intensely dramatic "Plaisir d'amour" by Martini also received a good variety of color and dynamics with a supremely delicate decrescendo at the end and some very sweet pianism from Myra Huang. While we are at it, let us praise Ms. Huang's superb accompaniment. She has the light touch that we favor but never fades into the background.
We heard a quartet of songs by Fauré noted for their delicacy and some lovely melismatic singing in "Après un rêve".
The final piece on the program was "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen", one of our favorite pieces. Clarinetist Alicia Lee joined Ms. Phillips and Ms. Huang and the plenitude of tunes bounced back and forth. The wide skips imitate yodeling and did not daunt our intrepid soprano. In the final verse, the change of mood as Spring is arriving was a perfectly joyful place to end the recital.
But there was an encore--a piece Ms. Phillips has performed before, one which puts her dramatic skills to good use. In Do You Sing, Mr. Twain? Gordon Myers set eight pithy aphorisms, although one of them "On Rules of Writing", was anything but pithy. With consummate irony, brevity is praised while the pianism and vocalism become increasingly florid with extended passages suggestive of Händel and Donizetti. The two artists had a great time, as did the audience.
(c) meche kroop