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, February 22, 2018


Gregory Feldmann, Thomas West, Kathryn Henry, Minjung Jung, Nathaniel LaNasa, Jinhee Park, and Tamara Banješević

We enjoyed another fulfilling Liederabend at Juilliard yesterday.  The lovely soprano Vivian Yau opened the program with some interesting songs written by Rebecca Clarke, a composer heretofore unknown to us, who seemed to be drawn to poetry of a mystical nature. Ms. Yau's beautiful timbre was well suited to the ethereal nature of the songs; her collaborative pianist Ji Yung Lee contributed some delicate arpeggi and the two artists matched each other in dynamics with some gorgeous pianissimi, well suited to the material.

Baritone Thomas West performed the next set with collaborative pianist Mariel Werner. We look forward to hearing Mr. West sing something more sympathetic to our ears. The 20th c. songs sung in English were not to our taste, and the English diction was largely unclear. For us, the problem lay in the text.

The only text we might have enjoyed (Hilaire Belloc's "Tarantella") had short punchy rhymed phrases and was set to rapid fire music by Witold Lutoslawski that was entirely as grim as the final verse. We might have enjoyed it more if Lutoslawski had set us up with something frisky and then punched us in the gut at the end. We only had this thought upon returning home and reading the text which was not clear during the performance. Unfortunately, the hall was very dim and we couldn't follow along.

The late 19th c. songs of Edvard Grieg were far more appealing and the performance of Tamara Banješević was compelling. Jinhee Park made a sympathetic piano partner and the two of them performed four selections from Sechs Lieder in happily comprehensible German. Perhaps it is the crisp consonants of German that make it so much better to sing than English.

We were held spellbound throughout. Grieg wisely chose text by Heinrich Heine for "Gruss",   Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for "Zur Rosenzeit",  and Emanuel von Geibel for the romantic "Ein Traum", which we never tire of hearing. Grieg succeeded in enhancing the words with his music; Ms. Banješević and Ms. Park succeeded in enhancing both text and music with their deeply felt performance.  It is exactly what one hopes to find in a lieder recital.

Pianist Nathaniel LaNasa was a worthy piano partner for baritone Gregory Feldmann. We particularly enjoyed the way he evoked the rolling waves in Alexander Zemlinsky's "Nun schwillt der See so bang".  Mr. Feldmann has a lovely timbre in his instrument and excellent German diction. 

Although contemporaneous with Mahler and Strauss, Alexander Zemlinsky is not as frequently performed. We were glad to be introduced to his oeuvre but did not feel compelled to seek out more of his songs. We found "Tod in Ähren" to be unrelievedly grim, whilst "Der Tag wird kühl" offered the two artists multiple opportunity for variety in the color palette.

What would a lieder recital be without some Richard Strauss! Thanks to soprano Kathryn Henry and pianist Minjung Jung, we heard three songs--all setting of text by Heinrich Heine, whose poetry was wisely taken up by so many composers.

The tessitura of "Mit deinen blauen Augen" seemed low for the soprano fach but Ms. Henry handled it beautifully. In "Schlechtes Wetter", Heine sees a small woman tottering down the street on a dark and stormy night; he speculates that she is shopping for ingredients to bake a cake for her spoiled daughter. What an interesting imagination!  But it gives the soprano ample story telling opportunity. 

In "Frühlingsfeier" Heine describes a disturbing picture of some wild women lamenting the loss of the beautiful youth Adonis in a pagan ritual. This Springtime ritual symbolizes the death and rebirth undergone by la belle nature. This song really requires Strauss' full orchestration but  Ms. Henry and her excellent piano partner Minjung Jung went a long way toward creating the wild passion.

Another great experience presented by the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department, this one curated and coached by Cameron Stowe.  Keep 'em coming!

(c) meche kroop

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