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, December 9, 2016


Brian Zeger, Julia Wolcott, Alex Rosen, Christine Taylor Price, Kathryn Henry, and Samantha Hankey

When we learned who was singing at the Juilliard Songfest at Alice Tully Hall last night, we knew we were in for a special treat. When we saw the program, our eyes opened wide--all those songs by Richard Strauss that we had never heard before! As is the case with Schubert (whose output was considerably larger than that of Strauss, and larger than anyone else's for that matter), certain songs become popular and appear frequently on recital programs while others languish unfortunately unsung.

Brian Zeger, Artistic Director of Juilliard's Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts, was on hand as collaborative pianist and, in this case, perhaps more importantly, as curator for this thrilling evening. There were only a few familiar songs on the program and the others were delightful discoveries.

That Strauss loved sopranos is not news; indeed he had a fruitful marriage with one!  But just hear the three sopranos and singular mezzo-soprano who brought these songs to vivid and meaningful life!  Each one has remarkable technique which she applied to bring out the best of her glorious instrument. We will get to the bass later.

Kathryn Henry is a sensational soprano whom we previously had only heard briefly, and in French. We enjoyed her pure and lovely sound even more in German and in the songs selected for her to sing. She opened the program with a set of four of his songs--"Nichts", "Nachtgang", "Leises Lied" and "Die Georgine", all beautifully performed.

Later in the program she sang "Ich liebe dich" and the more familiar but very sad "Befreit". Her delivery was deeply felt and marked by perfect phrasing. Mr. Zeger introduced this wonderful song with some gorgeous arpeggios.

Soprano Christine Taylor Price has a pure crystalline sound that soars into the stratosphere.  We have enjoyed reviewing her work on prior occasions (reviews are archived) but don't recall hearing her sing Strauss; her instrument is just perfectly Taylor-ed (pardon the pun) for it. 

She opened the second half of the program with a set of four songs, each one a precious jewel--"Ich schwebe", the familiar and worshipful "Du meines Herzens Kronelein", the tender "Meinem Kinde", and the expansive "Fruhlingsgedrange".  To hear her spin out a pianissimo line is to experience pure auditory joy.

We loved "Die sieben Siegel", a setting of a text by Friedrich Ruckert, and the gentle "Traum durch die Dammerung" in which her vocal colors matched the text "weiches samteness Band"--soft velvet ribbon indeed!

Soprano Julia Wolcott performed "O susser Mai" and another Ruckert song "Morgenrot" to our delight. We make no apologies for enjoying text that scans and rhymes and Ruckert always fills the bill on that count! Our appreciation for this lovely artist grew as we witnessed her talent for drama and comedy. "Muttertandelei" is the outpouring of maternal pride. No one on earth has such a child!  Ms. Wolcott showed a real flair here and, moreover, got to show up a facility for melismatic passages that were beautifully handled.

Strauss included plenty of roles for mezzo-sopranos in his operas and we hope we will be hearing Samantha Hankey performing them in the near future. The timbre is just right.  Just thinking that the artists we heard tonight would comprise a perfect cast for Der Rosenkavalier (one of our favorite operas).

"Waldseligkeit"is a wonderful paean to nature and Ms. Hankey's voice expanded in a rapturous climax at the end. In "Lob des Leidens" she evinced the beauties to be found in sorrow. Our favorite, however, was "Einerlei" which speaks to the irony of diversity coming from sameness.

The evening truly belonged to the female voice but bass Alex Rosen was on hand to perform a few songs which were perhaps written for that fach, but we have been unable to verify. "Aus den Lieder der Trauer" was sung with intensity. Mr. Rosen certainly does have the strength in the lower register as heard in his mastery of the low tessitura of "Das Tal".

We liked him better in the light-hearted "Ach weh mir ungluckhaftem Mann' in which a poor man fantasizes about going courting in high style.  And our favorite was the gentle "Traum durch die Dammerung".

The encore was perfectly chosen for the four female voices, a setting of Heinrich Heine's "Fruhlingsfeier"; we are not sure if it has ever been arranged for four voices before but it was a stirring way to end a splendid evening.

© meche kroop

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