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, October 31, 2018


German Forum President Barbara Heming, pianist Babette Hierholzer, oboeist Julia Obergfell, and baritone Äneas Humm

Last night's German Forum presented their Fall Concert at Lincoln Center's Bruno Walter Auditorium and we are pleased to report that in spite of ex-President Henry Meyer-Oertel's retirement, the music and good fellowship remain intact under the stewardship of new president Barbara Heming.

Guests were welcomed, the mission reiterated, and the young artists presented. We were introduced to the astonishing young baritone Äneas Humm several years ago when the German Forum brought him here from Switzerland. We were amazed by his artistry back then and he has only gotten better each time we hear him.

Last night his light lyric instrument served well in a selection of Schubert lieder. In "Der Wanderer" (the one with text by von Lübeck) the poet is lonely and unhappy; this was successfully conveyed by the singer's word coloring. The contrasting third stanza ("Wo bist du") was filled with anguish. Mr. Humm rose to the challenge of the low tessitura.

The poet in "Der Wanderer an den Mond" is also lonely; but the colors were different as he contemplates the moon and compares their differing situations. The excellent collaborative pianist Babette Hierholzer established a walking rhythm.

"Der Jüngling an der Quelle" tells of a youth filled with unrequited longing; both singer and pianist filled out the music with sweetness.

We can think of no lieder composer we love more than Schubert but we have no love for "Der Zwerg". The problem is not with the music or its performance. We just hate the story of the jealous dwarf who strangles his Queen and throws her into the sea. Still, our singer is a master story-teller.

Robert Stolz's compositions of the early 20th c. bring fresh delights to the ear. From his operetta Mädi, we heard "Bisschen Liebe tut gut" and for this our singer assumed a rakish pose and a charming seductive mien that suited him well.

Not as well suited to his voice was "Sorge infausta una procella", sung by the magician Zoroastro in Händel's opera Orlando. This aria is usually sung by a heavy bass and was not the best choice for a lyric baritone. Furthermore, work needs to be done on the articulation of the fioritura.

Far better were two songs by Viktor Ullman, the Austrian composer who wrote the satirical opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis which we have twice reviewed. Mr. Humm performed two songs of his that were translated from Farsi--"Vorausbestimmung" and "Betrunken". The music is replete with early 20th c. irony.

Co-starring on this interesting and varied program was young German oboist Julia Obergfell who began her musical childhood as a pianist until she fell in love with the oboe. We have also loved the oboe solos in symphonic works but have never heard the oboe in recital. Last night we realized how similar to singing it is.  Breath control and phrasing and color are all important.

The first movement of Schumann's Romance, Op. 94 had some graceful phrasing and a mournful feel. In contrast, we heard Telemann's Fantasy in B minor which demanded a crisper sound and some impressive staccato. Ms. Obergfell's artistry is unmistakable.

Her major work on the program was Poulenc's Sonata for Oboe and Piano. The Elégie was melodious and mysterious and had an impressive trill.  The Scherzo was frisky and fast with fleet fingering required on the repeated notes. The final movement Déploration involved some pensive phrasing and lived up to its meaning--"lamentation". In Ms. Hierholzer, the singer found a worthy piano partner indeed!

We were so happy to see Mr. Meyer-Oertel in the audience and equally happy that the German Forum continues its worthy mission of bringing young artists from German speaking countries to the USA to perform. We have a high level of confidence in the new President Barbara Heming. You too can be part of this valuable organization for a modest contribution. Music, food, wine, and good fellowship!

(c) meche kroop

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