|Haodong Wu and Marisa Karchin at Weill Recital Hall
Surely musicians do not have to be beautiful to look at but there's no denying the visual pleasure of seeing two such lovely artists onstage at Weill Recital Hall last night at the Joy in Singing 2018 International Art Song Award Debut Recital.
An interesting factoid is that we reviewed each of them separately in connection with Cantanti Project. Haodong Wu was the pianist for a recital of love songs and Ms. Karchin sang in Händel's Orlando. How fine it was to see both of them given an entire recital to show their versatility. Their introduction of each set was delightfully presented.
An unusual feature of Ms. Karchin's artistry is that we could understand every word she sang, in spite of the bright coloratura nature of her instrument. There is an appealing aspect to her vibrato as well. She chose her own program and wisely included plenty of material with melismatic passages, at which she excels.
There is nothing reticent about Ms. Wu's collaborative pianism. She didn't drown out the singer but she certainly didn't fade into the background. The result was a true matching of artistry.
The program opened with two songs by Purcell, one of the few composers who set English in a way that delights our ear. Both "Sweeter than Roses" and "If Music be the Food of Love" offer opportunities for word coloration and the artists availed themselves of the opportunity, whether the word was "sweet" or "warm", "freeze" or "fire".
Six songs from Lili Boulanger's Clairières dans le ciel were performed. If the French pronunciation left something to be desired (Yes, those nasalities and diphthongs are difficult to master!) at least the Gallic style was mastered, leaving us to hope that Ms. Karchin will get some additional coaching in French. Her cool tone is just perfect for French. We heard her in the duet from Delibes' Lakme three years ago and thought the same.
This is our week for Turina's music, which we just heard in a concert at Manhattan School of Music. We can never get enough of Spanish song and were happy that the program included Tres poemas from Opus 81. We particularly admired Ms. Wu's playing in "Tu pupila es azul". Again, we loved the melismatic singing. We heard some insecurity in the Castilian and even a touch of Argentinian accent at times--something that should be very easy to correct.
We have no such quibbles with the Russian since that is a language we have not learned. It was a brave move to put four songs by Nikolai Obukhov on the program. This so-called "modernist mystic" wrote dodecaphonic music, including all sorts of weird vocal utterances, that the audience listened to respectfully.
The final set by Strauss came as a relief and we noted that Obukhov's music will be performed long after Strauss' music has died--but not a moment before! (Insert laugh). In spite of listening with "open ears", we were gritting our teeth halfway through. We will say, however, that the artists gave the songs a committed and expressive performance.
The Strauss left us happy of heart. That man knew how to write for the voice! His Brentano Lieder appeared after a decade long hiatus from song writing and must have been greeted with as much glee then as we felt last night. The humanity and accessibility of the text is matched by the stunning vocal writing, filled with descending chromatic passages and wide skips.
Here, Ms.Karchin was in her element, bringing every passage to vivid life with her storytelling. Her artistic choice was to soften the "ch" sound, avoiding its guttural nature; this was fine since it was consistent. We get annoyed when a singer avoids the sound altogether or pronounces it inconsistently. A little brushing up of the umlaut sounds would make her German perfect.
Ms. Karchin's father is a composer and was in the audience to hear her sing his setting of two poems by Seamus Heaney, whose text, which neither rhymed nor scanned, led to a vocal line than was not memorable. We found our ears leaning toward the piano writing which was interesting.
Let us close by pointing out that Joy in Singing, in their sixtieth year, is under new leadership and is expanding its mission. They will now be known as Joy in Singing, The Art Song Institute. Visit www.joyinsinging.org to learn about their outreach in public schools (YAY!), their series Art Song on the Move, their Song Salons in private homes, their master classes and workshops.
(c) meche kroop