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, March 24, 2017


Michal Biel, Cody Quattlebaum, Chris Reynolds, and Samantha Hankey

Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recitals are always a treat. Singers are nominated by their voice teachers and then audition for a panel of judges. One of the judges for this recital was Paul Appleby and if anyone knows what makes a good recitalist it is he. The interesting feature of these recitals is that the singers select their own program, presumably with the help of their respective pianists. Sometimes one hears rarely heard masterpieces.

The first half of the program was given to notable bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum whom we have so greatly enjoyed on the operatic stage. Those who thrilled to his Figaro and his Mephistopheles at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals last Sunday would have been astonished last night with his artistry and versatility as a song recitalist.

Although we adore the Ravel cycle Don Quichotte a Dulcinee,  Jacques Ibert composed his own cycle in 1931, three years before Ravel composed his.  We were thrilled to be introduced to Chansons de Don Quichotte; they are not better but they are surely equal in value. Mr. Quattlebaum performed them in perfect French with sonorous vocalism and heightened dramatic impact.

It seems a paradox but Mr. Quattlebaum's tone can be exciting and soothing at the same time--and always pleasing to the ear. There is a marvelous vibrato at the lower end of the register and his voice expanded to fill Alice Tully Hall. The first song, "Chanson du depart de Don Quichotte" set text by Pierre de Ronsard and the other three songs set text by Alexandre Arnoux.  There is a prominent vocalise in "Chanson a Dulcinee" which Mr. Quattlebaum enjoyed as much as we did. He assumed a different persona for "Chanson du duc" and exhibited a vastly different vocal color for "Chanson de la mort de Don Quichotte" that moved us deeply. We particularly liked the dynamic variety from pp to ff.

Collaborative pianist Michal Biel was right with him all the way, as he was for the subsequent Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo by Hugo Wolf. His piano echoed the singer's powerful presence and established a feeling of portent. The performance was superb but they will never be among our favorite songs, nor will Wolf's setting of Goethe's "Grenzen der Menschheit" which achieved stunning intensity. There was a tender passage that moved us however, and Mr, Quattlebaum's German was as fine as his French.

The final set comprised Cuatro Canciones sobre Textos Gallegos by Anton Garcia-Abril, a 20h c. Spanish composer and musician who is best known for composing sound tracks for movies, especially "spaghetti Westerns". His cycle was uncharacteristically melodic, both in the vocal line and in the piano writing. We enjoyed it for its accessibility and the pleasing sound of Spanish which Mr. Quattlebaum handled as well as the French and German.

The second half of the evening was performed by mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, a highly musical artist whom we keep liking more and more every time we hear her.  It has been only four days since she won the Met National Council Award with some marvelous Mozart and terrific Tchaikovsky. What impressed us most about last night's performance was how well she used her body to underscore the feeling of the song--something that had not struck us previously.

We have always perceived her, however, as centered and poised, making ample use of vocal color to convey the feeling of the text. Her voice literally soared in Franz Liszt's settings of Goethe's text and her expressiveness achieved new heights. It was quite a coincidence that she sang a wide selection of Robert Schumann's Ruckert lieder, several of which we reviewed last night, sung by soprano Miah Persson. It was fascinating to hear the subtle differences in interpretation. 

We particularly enjoyed "Der Himmel hat eine Trane geweint" in which an oyster captures a tear from heaven and creates a pearl which it shelters. The metaphor of pain and desire was beautifully expressed. Another favorite was the ecstatic "Widmung".

When Ms. Hankey sang "Aus den ostlichen Rosen" we could see and smell the roses; the piano of Chris Reynolds conveyed all the sweetness of the sentiment. In "Flugel! Flugel!" Ms. Hankey's voice soared along with Icarus' flight.  It is a lengthy song and offered many opportunities for variations in color. Mr. Reynold's turbulent piano conveyed the fall of Icarus with profound anguish. 

A half dozen songs by Richard Strauss brought the splendid recital to a fine close. Everyone remarks about Strauss' writing for the soprano but we had no problem with Ms. Hankey taking on these songs. The messa di voce in "Waldseligkeit" was delicate and Mr. Reynold's piano limned the rustling of the leaves.

We particularly enjoyed the light-hearted "Einerlei" in which the lover confronts the paradox of familiarity and novelty.  In "Schlechtes Wetter", Ms. Hankey told a tender tale whilst Mr. Reynold's piano let fly with a storm.

If we were to add one element to these excellent recitals it would be the projection of titles. Not everyone in the audience speaks all those language and looking down at the translations in the program takes one away from the immediacy of the experience.  The four artists onstage merited our full attention.

(c) meche kroop

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