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.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Chris Reynolds and Christine Oh

Yesterday was the last Liederabend of the season at Juilliard.  This is a series that showcases several students of the Vocal Arts Department and the Collaborative Piano Department and we always look forward to seeing what the students will choose to perform. It is a golden opportunity to assess the breadth and depth of talent in both departments.

Yesterday's program opened on a cheerful and seasonal note with the lovely soprano Christine Oh, florally gowned and singing of Spring. She selected four of Wolf's sunnier songs, all from his Goethe-Lieder.  Who knew the Goethe of horror could also be the Goethe of joy! 

Ms. Oh has a light lyric instrument that falls so pleasantly on the ear that one could listen for hours on end; Mr. Reynolds' light touch on the keys made for a perfect partnership. Ms. Oh has the advantage of onstage charm. Moreover, having done the translations herself, she knew exactly what she was singing about and conveyed all the meaning of these delightful songs.

On the other hand, the next two singers chose material of a darker hue. Mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze, sounding much healthier than she was supposed to, sang some Schonberg songs from Op.3 that were relentlessly troubling--a rather jaundiced view of nature and a display of nasty jealousy. Only "Geubtes Herz" held a note of hope for the experienced heart that has learned from suffering.  These are challenging songs for the singer but Ms. Kutateladze performed them well with sufficient dramatic realization, and collaborative pianist HoJae Lee matched the mood.

The choice made by bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum was Vier Gesange, Op.2 by Alban Berg, another set of difficult material which Mr. Q. enjoyed performing. His deeply resonant voice and engaging stage presence served the material well but, like the Schonberg, these songs are not likely to wind up on our list of favorites. These are moody texts, with the first three connected by themes of sleep. The final song "Warm die Lufte" was a peculiar text (or perhaps we just don't appreciate Alfred Mombert's poetry) but Mr. Q's performance drew us in, especially when he stepped forward from the piano, which was so well played by Katelan Terrell.

The set by Poulenc seemed light-hearted by comparison. Soprano Anneliese Klenetsky performed some songs relating to the French Resistance and her Gallic subtlety was matched by Minjung Jung's light touch on the piano. The irony of the tragic lyrics of "Le disparu" was counterposed with the pleasant piano part. "C'e" treats the sorrow of loss with pleasing melodies. "Fetes galantes" is filled with surreal imagery.

Grace Canfield has a pleasing soprano and was accompanied by Rosa Li on the piano for some songs by Charles Ives. "Thoreau" begins with some spoken prose which Ms. Canfield recited beautifully to a spare piano accompaniment. When Ives tries to rhyme, it comes out like doggerel--even "Cradle Song", which achieves no conclusion. "At the River" involved overly elaborate piano writing for a simple folk tune. We love Ms. Canfield's voice but these songs will not join our "Hit Parade".

The program concluded with the divine Mikaela Bennett singing songs by Samuel Barber. This gal is one of those singers who, like Julia Bullock, can sing the phonebook and keep us interested. We scarcely noticed the music but focused on her performance, which made much out of the nonsense humor of "Monks and Raisins".  

Now the words of James Joyce are delicious to read on the page but his neologisms have to be seen to be appreciated. Setting a passage from Finnegan's Wake to music did not appear to us to be a good idea but Ms. Bennett performed "Nuvoletta" well with a soaring soprano. The humor occurred in the piano, so ably played by Yoon Lee. "Nocturne" seemed strange to our ears with the text speaking of calm but the piano anything but calm, rather agitated.

We would say that we were butting heads with the 20th c. for most of the recital but we are always happy to hear the superb young artists pushing themselves into challenging territory. It is only fair that we in the audience challenge our ears as well.

(c) meche kroop

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