|Richard Fu, Marie Engle, Aaron Keeny, Bronwyn Schuman, and Erik van Heyningen|
If a composer wanted to set English text to music, he couldn't do much better than Shakespeare. In a fine program curated by Dr. Lydia Brown for Juilliard Vocal Arts entitled "Shakespeare: The Bard in Song", we heard those marvelous young Juilliard artists interpreting a wide variety of these songs, culled from the 18th, 19th, and 20th c.
The main draw is the partnership between singer and pianist. All of the collaborative pianists were exquisitely sensitive to the singers they accompanied; all were supportive and light in touch. Nothing destroys a lieder recital more than a heavy-handed pianist.
The highlight for us was the performance of soprano Anneliese Klenetsky with Bronwyn Schuman on the piano. Two sets were performed on the same theme--Ophelia from Hamlet--and the audience was so enraptured that they allowed both sets to proceed without interruption. It was so interesting to hear Brahms' Funf Ophelia Lieder contrasted with Richard Strauss' Drei Ophelia Lieder.
The text had been translated into German and was almost identical but the musical styles were totally different and Ms. Klenetsky's delivery was right on point. She opened with the Brahms and drew us in with the delicacy of her storytelling, as well as the way she used her gorgeous instrument. The Strauss was quite a contrast. Whereas Brahms' Ophelia came across as a pathetic victim, Strauss' Ophelia came across as deranged, intense and violent.
Much was asked of the artists and much was delivered. We came away wishing someone would write an opera from Ophelia's point of view, much as Tom Stoppard wrote a play from Rosenkranz and Guildenstern's point of view. Ophelia's distracted ramblings tell us things that went on "behind the scenes" so to speak, about her being dishonored.
Mezzo-soprano Marie Engle, just heard at Carnegie Hall Monday night, performed Erich Korngold's Four Shakespeare Songs, with Richard Fu as her superb piano partner. We liked the way Korngold used the text and loved the way the artists performed it. Desdemona's "Willow Song" from Othello emphasized the rhyme scheme without hitting us over the head with it.
The other three songs used text from As You Like It. "Blow, blow, thou winter wind" made use of repeated downward scale passages and open fifths in the piano to emphasize the cold atmosphere. Our favorite, however, was "When birds do sing" which Ms. Engle and Mr. Fu invested with light-hearted expressivity.
The other 20th c. composers did not impress us as much. Gerald Finzi was represented by his Let us garlands bring, Op. 18, performed by baritone Erik van Heyningen and collaborative pianist Brandon Linhard. We definitely preferred the joyful and tuneful "Who is Silvia?" from Two Gentlemen of Verona and the lively "O mistress mine" from Twelfth Night which Mr. van Heyningen seemed to relish performing. Similarly for "It was a lover and his lass" from As You Like It.
Baritone Aaron Keeny was greatly appreciated for his relaxed and inviting stage manner. We cannot say we liked Michael Tippett's music. As far as 20th c. composers go, we far preferred his contemporary Korngold. His Songs for Ariel from The Tempest provided a low tessitura in "Full fathom five" but no melody to tease our ears. "Where the bee sucks" suited Mr. Keeny best and we enjoyed Jae Eun Park's pleasing piano accompaniment.
The two artists also dipped their toes into the 18th c. with Haydn's "She Never Told Her Love" from Twelfth Night, to which he and Ms. Park gave a grave and subtle delivery. We enjoyed the varied dynamics and Mr. Keeny's lovely messa di voce.
If you have never attended a liederabend at Juilliard you owe it to yourself to attend one before the semester ends. They never disappoint and you will have an opportunity to hear the stars of tomorrow just before their stars ascend.
(c) meche kroop