|Ying Fang, super-star soprano (photo by Dario Acosta)
A perfect performance of the kind of music one prefers to hear can totally transform one's mood. The rainy day glum gave way to a sunshine-y kind of joy under the influence of Ying Fang's artistry. With the superlative collaborative pianist Ken Noda, we heard the kind of music that formed the basis for the art song recital. Happily (for us), no new ground was tilled. We don't go to lieder recitals to be intellectually challenged by obscure texts. We go to be delighted and emotionally moved.
Ms. Fang has been the object of our adoration for at least six years. What great fortune for the opera world that Mr. Noda discovered her in Shanghai! Her advanced studies at Juilliard brought her to our attention. Perhaps the first review was for her Zerlina. We also adored her Susanna. Several appearances in recitals just continued to impress us with her artistry.
It was a coup for Carnegie Hall to snag her for this eagerly awaited recital. Weill Recital Hall was a perfect venue for her intimate performing style. Although she has the physical beauty and fashion sense to come across as a diva, she does not. She commands the stage by virtue of confidence and professionality. She draws us into her world with a nod, a smile, or a well-timed glance.
In programming this recital, she took us to the very roots of lieder, with a few other selections to pepper the tasty stew. Her focused bell-like soprano delights the ear and her lightness of touch seemed perfect for Mozart. She knows exactly what she is singing about and brings out the subtext with subtle artistry. This may be the first time we appreciated the symbolism of a flower that blooms too early, or one that willingly sacrifices itself for love.
Mozart's melodic magic was everywhere evident and his abrupt shifts from major to minor were strongly delineated by Ms. Fang and the very present Mr. Noda. The German text was clearly enunciated and the word coloration conveyed every nuance, amplified by Ms. Fang's expressive face.
This made us think about the artifice of the lieder recital. The preparation is intense but the performance must seem spontaneous and natural.
The sets alternated between Mozart and Schubert, who came along a generation or two later, but seemed to have composed with Mozart whispering in his ear and guiding his pen. If only one of them could return to earth and guide the pens of today's composers! That they both chose wonderful texts, texts that rhyme and scan, like those of Goethe and Müller, surely affected the flow of melody and phrasing. Ms. Fang and Mr. Noda seemed totally tuned into these aspects and gave each text apposite phrasing.
We loved the sweet and happy songs like Mozart's "Un moto di gioia" and "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben", an aria from his unfinished opera Zaide. We had similar pleasures from Schubert's passionate "Ganymed". But there were other emotions to hold dear, like the angry "Als Luise die Briefe" by Mozart, and Schubert's wistful "Im Frühling". But our most profound feeling came from Mozart's "Abendempfindung" which brings tears to our eyes when it is well performed. It was and it did!
Mr. Noda's artistry always impresses us. Last night we loved the hymn-like prelude to Schubert's "Im Abendrot" and the rocking piano which gave "Nacht und Träume" the feel of a lullaby. There was plenty going on in the piano part of "Viola" and we observed how deeply the two artists listened to one another and reflected upon each other. This lengthy lied comprises multiple moods and varied tempi.
For opera lovers, we had Susanna's final aria from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro, a role in which we have enjoyed Ms. Fang's performance. Without excess, she subtly let us know that Susanna was "performing" for her new husband. The wide upward skips were artistically negotiated.
The final work on the program was Mozart's concert aria "Misera, dove son"; the opening messa di voce grabbed our attention and the lavish embellishments reinforced the character's anguish.
Thankfully, we were gifted with two encores, loudly demanded by the capacity crowd--"In trutina" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana (sung in Latin), and Rachmaninoff's "The Dream". We could say that the entire evening was like a dream come true!
(c) meche kroop