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.
Monday, January 30, 2017
Sunday, January 29, 2017
|Martin Neron, Chad Kranak, Jose Pietri-Coimbre, Abigail Wright, Elizabeth Smith, and Nicholas Hay|
We enjoyed hearing a couple singers we have enjoyed and reviewed before and we enjoyed hearing some new ones. Familiar to us is mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright who adds luster to whatever she sings. Her full rich instrument is beautifully employed in both French and in German. We understood every word.
We never realized the irony in Brahms' "Wie Melodien zieht es mir" which describes the way a melody can lose its spirit when attached to lyrics. Significantly, Brahms' melody lost nothing! We have been hearing it in our head all night, including the lovely lyrics. Also in German we heard Schonberg's "Galathea", an unusual song which we have come to appreciate more and more.
In fine French, Ms. Wright performed Debussy's "Beau Soir" and "Romance" and the satisfying "Je te veux" with its sweet straightforward sentiment, in waltz time no less. Delicieux!
Baritone Jose Pietri-Coimbre is also known to us from some fine operatic performances. This is the first time we have heard him sing art songs and have a rather strong opinion. My guest thought his
performance of Schubert's "Ganymed" was the finest performance of the evening; we asked what impressed him and it was the same feature that impressed us. The singer immersed himself in the song and took us on an uplifting journey through the delights of nature.
We also enjoyed him in Reynaldo Hahn's "Fetes galantes" in which he painted an aural portrait reminding us of a Fragonard painting. So why did "Fumee" by the same Venezuelan composer leave us cold? Perhaps we just don't care for the song. (We just listened to a recording by the fabulous Anna Caterina Antonacci and didn't like it any more.)
However we got the same rather flat feeling when Mr. Pietri-Coimbri sang Gustav Mahler's "Urlicht", a song we adore. Perhaps the singer just wasn't feelin' it! That being said, his German was excellent and he exhibited a lovely pianissimo. As haunting as Mr. Neron's piano sounded, perhaps a full orchestra is necessary for the full emotional effect of this incredible song.
New to us was soprano Elizabeth Smith, of whom we are now a fan. Not only is the voice a lovely affecting one, but her stage presence is way beyond average. To our delight, she introduced each song by reading the text in English, and reading it with a depth of understanding that carried over into her singing. When a singer connects so deeply with the text and conveys it to the members of the audience, we are getting "the full Monty" of a song recital.
She was impressive in three gems by Gabriel Faure--"Clair de lune", the invitational "Mai" and the wistful "Apres un reve". Her French line was long and lovely and even without compromising the emotional content.
We enjoyed her even more in a pair of selections by the Sicilian composer Stefano Donaudy, who, like the Venezuelan Reynaldo Hahn, composed at the turn of the 20th c. She performed his most famous song "Vaghissima sembianza" and "Sento nel cor", filled with justifiable passion. We are pleased to relate that her Italian is luscious.
Also new to us was bass Nicholas Hay who closed the program with a delightful animated performance of Steven Mark Kohn's 2006 "Senator's Stump Speech", a text actually delivered by a former state representative from Tennessee, one Noah "Soggy" Sweat. It is a masterpiece of political double-speak in which the speaker's opinions can be slanted to please different groups. We cannot recall a thing about the melody or the singing, only that it was fun and a great way to end the program. Mr. Hay's adoption of a Southern accent made it even better.
It gave us a different look at Mr. Hay who was pretty inert in Oley Speaks' "Sylvia", another work from the turn of the 20th c. He is a singer who does best with humor. Of the two Russian songs he performed, he was far better in Modest Moussorgsky's funny song about the flea than he was in a beautiful but serious Tchaikovsky song about nature.
Tenor Chad Kranak chose to sing Winter Words, Benjamin Britten's mid-20th c. setting of poetry by Thomas Hardy. We are great fans of Hardy's novels and we might even like the poetry if someone had read it to us. However, the poetry did not ask to be set and seemed to be tortured into place to fit the music. The vocal line was so boring that we found ourselves focusing on the evocative piano writing, which was so well played by the excellent collaborative pianist Martin Neron.
This is where we bring in the opinion of our philologist friend who spontaneously reported that the music was more or less doing rhythmic battle with the words. This confirms our frequently asserted opinion that English is extremely difficult to set and should be left to people like Stephen Sondheim or Arthur Sullivan or some of America's composers of operetta and Broadway musicals. Our friend, who is fluent in English but not a native speaker, studies the rhythm and flow of language and was able to pick up the same issue that impairs our ability to enjoy English art song. We no longer feel the need to apologize for our prejudice. Only rarely have we heard a song that transcends the limitations of our native tongue!
As far as Mr. Kranak's performance, he did not strike us as a natural story-teller. Enunciation was rarely clear enough to get the full impact of the descriptive text. The most comprehensible songs were "The little old table" and "At the railway station, Upway" and even they lost a considerable number of words. Although Mr. Kranak is considered to be "an avid performer of Britten", we would like to hear him sing in a different language before commenting on his vocal skills.
(c) meche kroop
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Sunday, January 22, 2017
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Friday, January 20, 2017
Thursday, January 19, 2017
| Brittany Nickell|
|Wee Kiat Chia|
Two of the four singers were well known to us from Manhattan School of Music where we reviewed their performances on the opera stage. We were impressed with them then (and hope you will use the search bar to read those reviews from the past three years) and were delighted to hear them perform in recital mode.
Soprano Brittany Nickell has a generous sound and seems to have quite a future singing roles that call for a sizable voice. Last night we heard her sing two songs by Strauss, one very familiar one from Vier Letzte Lieder--"Im Abendrot". She was coached to make her consonants crisper and her vowels more accurate. Variations of color and dynamics were addressed. We loved the advice to "enjoy the melisma" on the word "milder".
Ms. Horne's comment about "Schon sind, doch kalt die Himmelssterne" was that it was one of Strauss' "B songs" and that every set should include both well known songs and lesser known ones. That's a point to which we have never given much thought, but it does make perfect sense. Ms. Nickell should have a lot of Strauss in her future. Her collaborative pianist was Nathan Raskin.
Mezzo-soprano Noragh Devlin has been reviewed by Voce di Meche four times previously and we have always appreciated her richly textured instrument and convincing dramatic gifts. She brought all this to bear on her performance of Mahler's "Um Mitternacht", with CP Katelan Terrell gamely trying to create the orchestration on the piano. Ms. Devlin is a true mezzo and her coaching involved the advice to start pianissimo and to "belt" at the end. She was advised to take more breaths and even to take a breath between "Mitter" and "nacht" at the end, in order to give full measure to the climax.
Soprano Alexandra Smither elected to perform Schumann's setting of Goethe's "Kennst du das Land", which has been set by all the important composers of lieder in the 19th c. Ms. Horne's coaching brought out all of the pathos, especially in the places where she was advised to take her time. Ms. Smither was accompanied by Madeline Slettedahl.
We love the counter-tenor fach but we confess to being rather confounded by the choice of material made by Wee Kiat Chia. Xavier Montsalvatge's "Cancion de cuna" from Canciones Negras involves a mother lulling her baby to sleep. We have no problem with gender bending but it seems to work better as a source of humor. Mr. Chia was coached to feel the rocking rhythm in his body.
His other choice was Robert Schumann's "Ich grolle nicht" from Dichterliebe. He was coached to keep the sound forward, to watch out for double consonants, and to keep the momentum--advice that was also given to the other singers on the program. His CP was Zalman Kelber. We speculated that Mr. Chia wanted to do something different and we always applaud risk taking. But for our ears, we would prefer to hear him in some Handel!
(c) meche kroop
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Monday, January 16, 2017
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Friday, January 13, 2017
These four musician-scholars joined forces last night to illustrate a theme dear to the heart of Jessica Gould, Founder and Artistic Director of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts.
So many of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts focus on the cross-fertilization of cultures through music. Ms. Gould does a thorough job of teaching us history through the prism of music, making such learning not only painless but downright pleasurable.
Last night's program, presented in the lovely Brotherhood Synagogue, was entitled Of Meistersingers and Mizmorim ("mizmorim" means "psalms") and was meant to explode the myth of Teutonic purity dating back to the Middle Ages, a myth beloved by Richard Wagner. Strangely enough, one of the songs performed by the terrific tenor Ivo Haun, could have been sung in the song contest held in the final act of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg!
The truth is that mittel-Europa in the Middle Ages involved traveling troubadors, Jewish counselors advising royalty, and Christian theologians exchanging intellectual ideas with rabbis. Jewish musicians played in German courts and Yiddish civilization became intertwined with the mainstream history of countries that became modern day Germany, Poland Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, and Western Russia. This weaving together of cultural strands waxed and waned with the acceptance and persecution of the Jewish people.
Much of this music has been lost but count on Ms. Gould and her network of fellow scholar/musicians to have uncovered enough of it for a full evening's concert. Some of it was found in the Glogauer Liederbuch and the Lochamer Liederbuch of the second half of the 15th c.; some was found in the 13th c. Vatican Organum Treatise which lies in the Biblioteca Vaticana, a compendium of melodies that found their way into later sacred music, both Jewish and Muslim. Some Hebrew chants and songs of Jewish troubadors were found in the Bibliotheque National de Paris. Some were tracked down in Prague.
Mr. Haun's sweet tenor was accompanied by Corina Marti's prodigious skills on the recorder and clavisymbalum (a table-top precursor to the harpsichord) and Ayelet Karni's wizardry on the recorder, and tabor, a drum worn around the neck. These three musician/scholars are all connected with the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and came from Basel to share their musical discoveries and talents with us. We will likely never get to read their scholarly dissertations but, on an experiential level, we can say that we were utterly transported back nearly a millenium.
The fourth member of the ensemble, Christa Patton, played a small baroque harp and played it with virtuosity and the same respect for the music as the other members of the ensemble. She surely merits the high position she holds in the world of Early Music.
We were given to understand that this music, much of it never heard before in our time, contains the seeds of Klezmer music. We have only heard Klezmer music once before and were honestly unable to hear the similarities but we will accept that point on faith.
What we did hear comprised some beautiful Hebrew chants by Obadiah the Proselyte who wrote in the 12th c., and some anonymous tunes of 12th c. Italy, 13th c. France, and 15th c. Germany and the Czech Republic.
Let us share our favorite moments. Ms. Patton's lovely harp playing in the French "Dance Real"; Ms. Marti's playing of a bifurcated pipe (double flute), harmonizing with herself; her spirited playing of the recorder in a duet with Ms. Karni--playing that brought fioritura to mind, Ms. Karni's simultaneous recorder playing and drum beating to complex rhythms, and finally, the wonderful settings of "Der Winter will hin weichen" found in the Lochamer Liederbuch and the Buxheimer Orgelbuch.
Mr. Haun's tenor sounded just right in all languages. We do not understand Hebrew but --just as German can sound more beautiful when well sung--the Hebrew that he chanted sounded soft and lovely, not harsh as spoken Hebrew can.
In the aforementioned German song, every word was crystal clear and we observed that Germans were singing about nature and the joys of Spring long before Schubert set similar texts. Perhaps modern German hews more closely to early German than modern French does to early French, but we had more trouble understanding the French of Mahieu le Juif's "Por autri movrai mon chant" and wished for a translation.
Lest we conclude that Germans only sing about nature, the encore was a German song about a lovelorn and heartsore man who didn't get the girl!
We left after the program wondering if our planet will survive another millenium and what shreds of our music might then be discovered and played and appreciated with the same sense of wonder we experienced last night.
(c) meche kroop