|Benedicte Jourdois and Michael St. Peter
Yes indeed! From the opening note of yesterday's recital at Manhattan School of Music, we were convinced that we had died and gone, surprisingly, to heaven. A great recital will do that for us!
Tenor Michael St. Peter, now achieving his masters degree, has been on our radar screen for at least three years and we have reviewed his performances in both lieder and opera (all reviews archived and searchable). It is a rare artist who can perform equally well in both genres. It is our greatest pleasure to watch a young artist grow in stature and we have a very good track record at picking out those destined for stardom. He is one of them.
Singing is, of course, a highly competitive field; a beautiful instrument employed with artistry is almost enough but not quite. In the genre of lieder singing, there is another ingredient that is priceless to possess and heaven to behold--the ability to translate the feeling tone of the poet and of the composer such that the audience feels it as well. The singer and collaborative pianist (in this case the phenomenally gifted Benedicte Jourdois) take us on an emotional journey. They are our guides in an emotional landscape.
Mr. St. Peter and Ms. Jourdois opened the program with an unparalleled performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte. As Mr. St. Peter informed us, this was the first song cycle written by a major composer and was completed in 1816. The subject of the cycle is sehnsucht, best translated as "longing". The text was written by Alois Jeitteles and prefigures German Romanticism and all the lovely songs by Schubert and Schumann that we so adore.
The poet is separated from his beloved for unknown reasons. Even when Spring arrives, they will not see one another, so it isn't Alpine snow that keeps them apart. We look for hints in the gorgeous melody and the classical harmonies but Jeitteles ain't tellin'. Perhaps the text is just symbolic of the unattainable.
Mr. St. Peter and Ms. Jourdois brought out every nuance of Beethoven's writing and the major/minor shifts were sensitively handled. We noted Mr. St. Peter's unforced tenor and perfect German on prior occasions. Every word was clear. He knew exactly what he was singing about and captured our rapt attention from the very first note. The mood was sustained throughout the interlude between songs. To say we were enraptured would be an understatement.
The succeeding Quatre Mélodies, Op.8 by Ernest Chausson were lovely gems of bittersweet nostalgia. The French diction was flawless and the long even lines were exactly what was missing in some French singing we reviewed a couple days ago. We observed a somewhat wider vibrato than we heard in the Beethoven which seemed just right for sad remembrances of lost love.
We were enchanted by the four songs selected from the cycle Venezia by Reynaldo Hahn which Mr. St. Peter performed in Venetian dialect. Of course the gondola makes its appearance in "La Barcheta" and the vocalise section was transporting. Mr. St. Peter pointed out that the work was premiered on a gondola in Venice with a piano and with Mr. Hahn himself. In "Che pecà" the poet laments the loss of drama and passion in his love. All this was conveyed with consummate musicianship and an effective partnership between the two artists.
We are quite sure that the three songs by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, setting of poems by Fiona Macleod, were just as artistically performed but we prefer our songs in any language but English.
The encore, Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" (though your heart is aching) was beautifully sung but we were so happy with the recital that an aching heart was the furthest condition from our reality! We are still basking in the joy we experienced and want to hold onto this feeling for as long as possible.
(c) meche kroop