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, October 19, 2017


Chris Reynolds, Yoon Lee, Natalia Katyukova, Jessica Niles, Nathaniel LaNasa, Kady Evanyshyn, Jacob Scharfman, Anneliese Klenetsky, and Ji Yung Lee

We really missed the Liederabend programming at Juilliard over the summer and are happy to note that the program got off to a stellar start yesterday with a magnificent program, curated and coached by Natalia Katyukova, accompanied by Chris Reynolds, Yoon Lee, and Ji Yung Lee. Over the past few years we have watched the audience grow from a smattering of lieder lovers to a throng. This fame is well deserved. One could not have found a better recital at any price.

It was admirable that each of the four featured singers took the stage with confidence, introduced her/himself, and told enough about their chosen work so that we in the audience could appreciate their involvement. We wish more recitalists did the same. A singer of lieder is a conduit through which the poet speaks and the composer resounds. Their individual interpretations can give new life to familiar works or introduce us to material that may be new to us.

Mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn opened the program with five lovely songs by Clara Schumann. This is a composer who speaks  (sings) to us with Austrian Romanticism in full flower. Readers know how much we love melody! It was obvious from the first note that Ms. Evanyshyn loves Clara's music as much as we do. We are always elated to see her somewhat overlooked oeuvre on a program.

The wise choice of text goes halfway toward making a memorable song. Heinrich Heine's text is almost always a great choice. "Ich stand in dunklen Traumen" is a mournful tale of love and loss while "Sie liebten sich beide, doch keiner" is a more ironic story of love never realized--perhaps an even greater loss.

"Die Lorelei" is one of Heine's horror stories and allowed Ms. Evanyshyn and her collaborative pianist Ji Yung Lee the opportunity to indulge in totally different coloration with the rippling in the piano suggesting the waves and both artists conveying a sense of urgency.

It was a welcome relief to hear the peaceful "Der Mond kommt still gegangen". The final selection was "Am Strande", a German translation of Robert Burns' poem "Musing on the roaring ocean".

Ms. Evanyshyn has a lovely and gracious stage presence, using only minimal gesture and allowing the text and musical phrasing to shine through. She never allows her gifts to steal attention from the music.

Next on the program was soprano Anneliese Klenetsky with Chris Reynolds as collaborative pianist. She too introduced herself with grace and enthused about her discovery that Benjamin Britten set some Russian text. This was a discovery for us too and we found the songs as unsettling as Ms. Klenetsky did. The text for this cycle, The Poet's Echo, was written by one of Russia's preeminent poets Alexander Pushkin. The cycle struck us as the cry of despair from being unheard.

The performance was superb and Ms. Klenetsky captured the inherent drama with a self-possessed maturity and conveyed the mood of these non-pretty songs. Our favorite was "Angel" in which the gentleness of an angel overcomes the sullenness of Satan. 

In "The nightingale and the rose" we loved the way Mr. Reynolds captured the song of the nightingale on the piano. In "Lines Written During a Sleepless Night" the melody wanders in a searching manner the way an insomniac searches for sleep.

We love the sound of Russian and our love grows the more we become familiar with its sound. We would have to say that we enjoy Rachmaninov more than Britten and soprano Jessica Niles began by telling the audience how she chose these songs for their imagery and, indeed we could see through her eyes and hear through her voice.

We think it made quite a difference that she translated the songs herself since she seemed to know exactly what she was singing about, giving each phrase a sense of movement toward the "goal note". These are luscious songs and each one carries a mood of its own, all well captured by Ms. Niles and Yoon Lee, her collaborative pianist.

"At Night in My Garden" tells of a willow whose tears will be wiped away by the tresses of the poet. Such a tender picture! All sadness disappeared with the joy of "The Daisies". There is unmistakeable charm in "The Pied Piper" whom we wanted to follow. "Dream" was filled with wonder and was a fine antidote to Britten's song about insomnia!

Bringing the program to a stunning close was baritone Jacob Scharfman who introduced the songs of Erich Korngold and told of Korngold's birth in Austria and his success as a composer of music for film in Hollywood. Strangely, this was news to us since we always thought of him as the composer of the opera Die Tote Stadt! The songs were written by Korngold when he was still a wunderkind in his native Austria. Mr. Scharfman shared with the audience the reason for his choice; his forebears were also Austrian Jews.

The songs have an Early 20th c. feel and some of the lavishness of Richard Strauss. Mr. Scharfman also did much of his own translation. "Reiselied" is a most cheerful and energetic song of optimism, a setting of text by Joseph von Eichendorff, one of our favorite poets for lieder. "Osterreichischer Soldatenabschied" allowed shifts of mode from the piano of the wonderful Nathaniel LaNasa which were reflected vocally by Mr. Scharfman.

Perhaps our favorite was "Nachts" which conveyed a mysterious and elusive mood, emphasized by a repetitive motif in the piano involving alternation of a whole step, much slower than a trill. The program ended with "Versuchung"--a rather puzzling text.

Mr. Scharfman's performance was marked by the expansiveness of a generous spirit and a personal involvement with the text and music. There was a lovely resonance to his instrument and fine German diction.

All in all it was a delightful treat to hear such fine artistry. One could not have heard better at any price. If you haven't attended a Liederabend at Juilliard, you owe it to yourself to enjoy such a treat. But be advised that tickets are free and can disappear rapidly.

(c) meche kroop

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