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.

Sunday, June 3, 2018


Nils Neubert and Robert Brandt
 Art Song recitals are a tough sell these days and one wonders why this perfect marriage of poetry, piano, and voice has fallen out of favor with the musical audiences of today. It seems as if a celebrity singer can fill up Carnegie Hall; but the true artistry of this genre is best enjoyed in an intimate venue.
Frank Daykin and Thomas

New York City has a number of organizations devoted to the survival of the art song and chief among them is The Art Song Preservation Society which is in the middle of its annual festival.  We love their motto--"Where Music Speaks & Words Sing". Headed by singer/pianist/educator/arts administrator Blair Boone-Migura, ASPS provides opportunities for education and performance for both emerging and established composers, singers, and accompanists. They are also involved in community outreach, mentoring, and an internet-radio podcast.

This week there will be daily master classes at 2:00 PM held at Manhattan School of Music; the master teachers are some of the best in the field.  Although not available in the daytime, we are mostly excited about the Friday evening recital of Latin American Art Song.  And anyone free next Saturday at 1:00 can enjoy the finals of the Mary Trueman Art Song Vocal Competition; an added bonus is the opportunity to vote for your favorite competitor.

We have just returned from a delightful recital in which two seasoned recitalists presented both solos and duets of this genre, accompanied by two veteran and legendary collaborative pianists who are both "poets of the piano". This complement allowed for the hearing of rarely heard duets and four-handed piano pieces.

The program opened with tenor Nils Neubert joining forces with baritone Robert Brandt for three duets by Brahms, none of which we have heard before. The sound fell sweetly on the ear with great attention paid to crisp consonants, lovely phrasing, and a perfect balance between the two voices. We do love German lieder with the same affection which Italian holds for us in the area of opera. Furthermore, the composers of 19th c. Germany astutely chose fine poetry to set.

We are pleased to share with our readers that the early 20th c. English songs held no terrors for our 19th c. ears. We heard a selection of songs by Gerald Finzi, Herbert Howells, and John Ireland, all distinguished by their wise choices of text and their astute use of our mother tongue to amplify this text.  Of course, one can never go wrong with Shakespeare, whose iambic pentameter lends itself to musical setting. We wish contemporary composers would choose better text to set!

These songs were given a fine performance by the mellow voiced Mr. Brandt, accompanied by Frank Daykin, who brought out the subtleties of the piano score, especially the sound of the nightingale in Howells' "King David". In Finzi's flirtatious "O Mistress mine", we enjoyed Mr. Brandt's lovely pianissimo in the last verse.  The philosophical "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" from the Bard's Cymbeline, and Ireland's nostalgic "The Salley Gardens" were followed by the frisky "It was a lover and his lass" from As You Like It. Mr. Brandt colored each song according to its text and his English diction was particularly well defined.  Not a word was lost.

Mr. Neubert also had his turn as a soloist and we enjoyed his performance of Quatre Melodies de Claude Debussy, settings of text by Paul Verlaine. Thomas Grubb's piano was the ideal partner; Mr. Grubb is renowned for writing the popular Singing in French, a manual of French Diction and French Vocal Repertoire. "C'est l'extase langoureuse" was given an appropriately languid reading. In "Il pleure dans mon coeur", we enjoyed the rippling piano, quite different from the rolling waves of "La mer est plus belle".

The two singers joined forces for two duets by Gabriel Fauré that were new to us. The lovely French lines involved the two voices echoing one another, not only in the textual lines but on the pleasing sound of "ah". The audience favorite seems to have been the jolly "Tarantelle". Mr. Grubb was truly in his element.

Besides this banquet of vocal music, we were treated to some four-handed piano.  We heard a sonata for four hands by Francis Poulenc--lively and somewhat dissonant. The program closed with Ravel's Ma Mère l'Oye, written in 1908-1910. Mr. Daykin, known for his widely used Encyclopedia of French Art Song: Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, gave a droll introduction to this work by Ravel, here at his picturesque best in programmatic music written for the children of his friends, who were unable to learn the piece!

We particularly enjoyed "Les entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête" in which Mr. Daykin expressed Belle's beauty in the lyrical part played in the upper register, whilst the rumbling of the Beast was taken by Mr. Grubb at the lower end of the register. Both themes were transmogrified over the course of the movement.

The audience clamored for an encore but there was none.  Still, we left feeling completely fulfilled.

(c) meche kroop

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