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.

Saturday, October 27, 2018


Natalia Katyukova and Paul Appleby at Zankel Hall

Tenor Paul Appleby is another artist who began his career about the same time as we began writing about the vocal arts, a simultaneity that leads to our deep investment and joy in his success.  Instead of writing yet another encomium, we invite you, dear reader, to use the search function to read dozens of reviews of this outstanding artist. We would prefer to get right into last night's program which was so carefully designed by Mr. Appleby, with intentions described in detail in the program notes.

We will skip right to the Schubert which is where the pathway from our ears to our heart was direct. Every recital we attend leaves us with an "ear worm" and we cannot silence Mr. Appleby's tender tenor timbre ringing in our ears as he performed "Ständchen". It took us back about five years when he performed an entire program of serenades in Santa Fe. Mr. Appelby can serenade us any time at all!  What a treat!

For reasons elucidated in the program notes, our terrific tenor reordered the seven Rellstab songs to fit in with the theme of the program. We had no objections to the reordering although we did not quite grasp the storyline he devised. No composer has equalled the lied output of Franz Schubert; his major-minor shifts and modulations of key seem to wrench our heart in a most satisfying way.

Both Mr. Appleby and the superb collaborative pianist Natalia Katyukova brought out the emotions of the songs. The natural elements like babbling brooks and rustling tree tops were finely limned on the piano. The mood of anxiety in "Aufenthalt" was countered by the lively and cheerful "Abschied". The grim "Kriegers Ahnung" has a low tessitura that did not daunt Mr. Appleby.

We loved the way he asked the questions "Hinab?", "Warum?" and "Und Du?" in "Frühlingssehnsucht" which ended with a powerful and passionate "Nur Du!" The set ended with a Seidl song "Die Taubenpost", notable for its rollicking rhythm and charming text. We always have a quibble and here it is. The consonants were not crisp throughout the entire Schubert cycle. 

By contrast, the diction for the songs in English was perfect and every word was clear. Songs of Imagined Love by contemporary composer Hannah Lash were based on four of the Schubert songs which would be heard later in the program. This was a world premiere and was commissioned by Mr. Appleby who sang them off book.

We daresay that Ms. Lash's songs will be performed long after Schubert's are forgotten--and not a moment before! They are not bad; they were just not interesting to us. When there is no melody in the vocal line our attention focuses on the piano and we enjoyed some pleasing tinkling sounds.

We did not enjoy the unpleasant sounds of George Crumb's "The Sleeper" in which the piano was violated.  The music desk was removed and the pianist stuck her hand inside and groped. We call this a case of "piano abuse".  If a composer wants plucking he can call upon the all-too-willing harp who flaunts her strings! The piano likes her strings tapped gently, if you please.

This was the first time we heard Benjamin Britten's Winter Words: Lyrics and Ballads of Thomas Hardy. We are a huge fan of Hardy's novels and have always thought that the stories would make great operas. But his poetry left us cold, as did Britten's setting. Clearly Mr. Appleby loves this cycle and poured his heart and soul into the performance.  It just is not our taste.

We did enjoy Mr. Appleby's melismatic singing, especially on the word "journeying" in "Midnight on the Great Western" in which Ms. Kotyukova produced the clacking of a railway train. We also admired the way Mr. Appleby colored his voice differently for the narrator, the child, and the convict in "At the Railway Station, Upway".

Also on the program was a short setting of a John Milton text by Handel--"Thus when the sun from's wat'ry bed" from Samson. The text rhymed and scanned and the melody was memorable with a fine opportunity for Mr. Appleby's melismatic singing.

We hoped for an encore from Candide but instead we got two pleasing songs--"Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms" by Thomas Moore, and Frank Bridge's charming "Love Went a-Riding".

(c) meche kroop

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