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.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Barbara Heming, Babette Hierholzer, Christine Reber, and Jacob Cirkel

The last time we wrote about the German Forum, we were bidding a sad farewell to long-term President Henry Meyer-Oertel. This time we are offering a warm welcome to new President Barbara Heming who seems to have the future of this outstanding organization well in hand. They will continue to provide performance opportunities for young artists from the German speaking world and enticing entertainment for members and their guests.

Last night we were offered an interesting program on the basis of the presence of a brilliant young instrumentalist--Jacob Cirkel, who has mastered the French horn, an instrument the sound of which we adore, even when it cracks.  It is like a beloved friend that we cherish, even when this friend is cranky, which, we confess, we felt about this concert.

The soprano, Christine Reber, sang into the detested music stand for the entire evening, with the exception of a couple minutes when she entered from the wings singing "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss" from Franz Lehár's Giuditta. We were ready to celebrate her liberation from the score but, once again she sidled up behind the stand.

We wish we were telling you about her sweet warm ingenue tone and the pleasures of hearing German sung the way it should be; but, no, here we are feeling cheated of the very pleasures for which we attend vocal recitals. Sometimes we grit our teeth and overlook this recital shortcoming when there is a premiere of difficult new music. But when a singer has chosen a program of standard works and cannot go to the trouble to memorize them, we do feel cheated of the connection that elevates a live recital above listening to a recording.  Frankly, we felt we were attending a music lesson.

The good side of this, and we always do look for the good side, is that we focused more on the collaborative piano of Babette Hierholzer who has terrific technique and matchless ability to support the other artists. In Beethoven's lovely "Ich liebe Dich, so wie Du mich", she gave every verse of this strophic song a different color.

Beethoven's Sonata for French horn and piano, op.17 was a revelation. She and Mr. Cirkel passed melodies back and forth and handled the major/minor shifts so stylishly! It was easy to see the influence of Mozart on the young Beethoven.

We are not familiar with Josef Rheinberger but the opening movement of his Sonata for French horn and piano in E flat Major from 1894 opened with a marvelous fanfare.

For the Act III prayer "Und ob die Wolke sich verhülle" from Carl Maria von Weber's Die Freischütz, the French horn replaced the cello part. This opera was presented by Utopia Opera three years ago and we enjoyed it so much in all its supernatural glory.

The German Forum loves to bring in an instrumentalist so that rarely heard vocal works can be performed. This was the first time we heard Richard Strauss' "Ein  Alphorn hör ich schallen" and, indeed, Mr. Cirkel provided the offstage horn call. If only Ms. Reber had directed her sound toward the audience, instead of down into the score!

There is plenty of room for the development of color in her voice. Three songs by Strauss required much more variety, which we did hear in the piano.  Ms. Hierholzer invested the opening bars of "Morgen" with an ethereal color, very different from that of "Die Nacht", which is quiet in a stealthy way.  The wild enthusiasm of "Zueignung" was expressed in a wild flight of arpeggi.

Schubert's "Auf dem Strom" is another piece we rarely hear and the horn melody is absolutely glorious and well supported by the piano.

Fred Raymond's Maske in Blau is unknown to us but hearing "Die Juliska aus Budapest" made us want to see the entire work. Ms. Reber made an attempt to act but it is truly impossible when one is looking at the score.  Gestures tend to appear superficially pasted on, rather than emerging organically from the text and the music.

The evening closed with the lovely Act I aria from Rossini's Semiramide --"Bel raggio lusinghier" which we just heard at the Metropolitan Opera with Angela Meade.  Ms. Reber's skill with bel canto was impressively accurate and we sat there hoping that the next time we hear her we will hear her from the heart and not from the page. There is ample talent there but communication with the audience surpasses technique.

Membership in the German Forum is so worthwhile! Junior memberships for those under 30 are extremely affordable. An added inducement is the generous buffet reception offered before and after the musical program, giving every audience member an opportunity to meet and greet the artists.

(c) meche kroop

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