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.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


Getting to Brooklyn seems easier when we are highly motivated. That one of our favorite performing groups planned an evening of lieder by one of our favorite composers, featuring four of our favorite lieder singers--that was motivation enough!  The Brooklyn Art Song Society could not be happier in their new home than we are. The explosive growth of their audience is testament to the worth of their programming.

Brent Funderburk and Sidney Outlaw
We will never forget the first time we heard Gustav Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.  We were thunderstruck! We have heard it several times since then, always enjoyed it immensely, but never felt the same rapture as we did that night.  But last night, the performance of the work by baritone Sidney Outlaw renewed that feeling of discovery. We are quite sure that the preparation involved was extensive; yet the performance was one of immediacy and seeming spontaneity.

Mr. Outlaw's German is more than crisp. Every word is intelligible, both to the ear and to the heart. That his instrument is a gorgeous one is selbstverstandlich. But the way he uses it is astonishing! He made good use of rubato and dynamic variety, as well as of his wide palette of vocal colors. There was just enough gesture and facial expression to get the mood across to those who speak no German. The gloom and doom of "Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht" gave way to the attempt at cheer in "Ging heut Morgen uber's Feld". The anguish of "Ich hab' ein Gluhend Messer" was fortified by collaborative pianist Brent Funderburk's rippling piano and the dirge-like "Die zwei blauen Augen" was accompanied by a rumbling trill from this superb pianist, whose postlude trailed off with the same artistry as Mr. Outlaw's delicate pianissimo.  What a performance!

Michael Brofman and Hyona Kim

The second piece on the program was Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. If the first piece involved a wide selection of colors, this piece involves many shades of grey. Ruckert's poetry about losing a child would seem to echo Mahler's own losses, since it is told from a father's perspective. It is strange that we can't recall having heard it sung by a female voice before last night, but mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim's dusky instrument seemed just right and the piano of Michael Brofman (Founder and Artistic Director of B.A.S.S.) supported her grief stricken outpouring throughout. 

What we heard amounted to the stages of grief one might endure--although maybe not the same stages as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross delineated.  This parent experiences denial and also an attempt to repair the loss by visualizing his beloved daughter entering the room. There is some irony and some hopefulness of future reuniting. We liked the limping piano which spoke to us of crippling feelings. We felt the obsessive ruminations in the repetition of "In diesem Wetter"--an attempt at what psychologist would call "undoing".

Miori Sugiyama and Christopher Herbert

The final work on the program comprised ten selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn--a completely different kettle of fish. These folksy tales seem to be of two ilks--there are tragic songs on the theme of the high cost of war, mostly given to the serious and scholarly Christopher Dylan Herbert--and amusing tales that delight while tickling the funnybone. Most of these were sung by soprano Kristina Bachrach. Both artists were accompanies by the always excellent Miori Sugiyama.

Miori Sugiyama and Kristina Bachrach
Mr. Herbert excelled in the ironic "Revelge" and the tragic "Tamboursg'sell" in which Ms. Sugiyama produced some fine drum rolls on the piano. We enjoyed the manner in which he elucidated the various voices in "Der Schildwache Nachtlied".  In "Wo die schonen Trompeten blasen" we heard a lovely sweetness in his upper register and his delicate pianissimo seemed to hang in the air.

But we mostly enjoyed the irony of "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt"--the story about some attentive critters of the sea who listen to St. Anthony's serum but remain unchanged. Hmmmm! We were not alone in enjoying the charm of "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht", perhaps because we rarely have seen Mr. Herbert's lighter side.

Soprano Kristina Bachrach is also gifted with voicing different characters which she did so well in  the tragic "Das irdische Leben" in which she portrayed the starving child and the postponing mother. The waltzy "Rheinlegendchen" always charms us and Ms. Bachrach performed it just right. "Verlorne Muh" reminded us of all the women we know who try too hard. The hilarious tale of a singing competition between a cuckoo and a nightingale "Lob des hohen Verstands", as judged by (of course) an ass, always tickles us and Ms. Bachrach excelled in her portrayal. 

We always have a quibble and here it is. Mr. Herbert and Ms. Bachrach used the loathsome music stand. As fine as their interpretations and acting were, the occasional glancing and page-turning served to interrupt their connection with the audience.  We got the impression that the score was more a "security blanket" than an absolutely necessity. This was not modern music, nor were these songs rarities. If one can learn a song 95%, why not make the extra effort to go the full 100% and give the audience a full measure of your talent?  Something to think about.

(c) meche kroop

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