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.

Friday, March 15, 2019


German Forum President Barbara K. Heming, Toby Newman, Marco Amherd,  Babette Hierholzer

Last night's concert program was unusual for the German Forum and so was the venue. We met in the gorgeous and spacious sanctuary of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament which houses an impressive organ (the better to accommodate the gifts of organist Marco Amherd) and an equally impressive piano, so beautifully played by Artistic Director Babette Hierholzer. 

Our favorite part of the program was Mr. Amherd's stirring performance of Zsigimond Szathmáry's arrangement of Modest Mussorksky's Night on Bald Mountain, originally composed for orchestra. Mr. Amherd's brilliant performance demonstrated the vast range of colors in the organ. The music is spooky and terrifying but ends on a peaceful "note" after some lovely liquid ascending arpeggi. If you have never seen the Disney film Fantasia, we are providing a link to see just how horrifying are the images evoked by this music.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLCuL-K39eQ 

An eleventh hour realization of a tuning discrepancy between this organ and piano led to the cancellation of one of the pieces on the program but Ms. Hierholzer saved the day by joining Mr. Amherd at the organ for a four-handed rendition of selections from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. The result was both sonorous and colorful. What a surprise to learn that Ms. Hierholzer was making her debut on the organ! She played it like an "old hand", although perhaps that phrase is not very flattering!

We were somewhat less enchanted by the vocal part of the evening. We were very much looking forward to another hearing of Robert Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben, one of our favorite song cycles. By an interesting coincidence, we last heard this piece performed by Marie Engle in the basement space of this very same church, almost one year ago; we were left shaken and tearful, as we usually are. Last night we were left unmoved.

Although mezzo-soprano Toby Newman has a pleasing tone, she sang without much variety of coloration and very little involvement with the text until the songs about pregnancy and motherhood. Perhaps her own recent achievement of that status helped things along; still, the excitement of courtship and wedding preparation were not conveyed in the first five songs.

There was another serious problem and that was with Ms. Newman's German. When a singer has problems with words ending in "ich", it torments our ears and distracts us from reacting to the text. American singers often omit the sound entirely or, as in Ms. Newman's case, pronounce it as "ick". This is just "icky"! Since many members of the German Forum are German speakers, we object to assigning such an important work to an American singer.

In Franz Schubert's passionate love song "Sei mir gegrüßt", the situation was even worse. Ms. Newman was "on the book" and sang it flatly. We hate giving a singer a poor review but we believe that singers should care enough about connecting with the audience to learn what is on their program.

We were left bored by the singing so we do what we usually do in such cases--we focused on the instrumental playing which was, in this case, Ms. Hierholzer's refined pianism. She has a real feel for 19th c. lieder which is our favorite thing to hear in recital.

The program also included Johann Sebastian Bach's Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major and "Oh Rest in the Lord" from Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah.

The German Forum has a lighthearted cabaret evening coming up on May 9th which sounds promising.

(c) meche kroop

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