|Jinhee Park and Polixeni Tziouvaras|
We have written about the lovely and versatile mezzo-soprano Polixeni Tziouvaras quite a number of times in her past few years at Manhattan School of Music. But last week, when she sang in Around the World in Song, we were not wearing our "critic" hat; we just sat there and enjoyed her performance of Ravel's Cinq Mélodies Populaires Grecques. Last night, at Ms. Tziouvaras' Master of Music recital, we listened with a critical ear, intent upon figuring out what was so gloriously entertaining.
There were a number of features that made it special for us. We have heard this cycle of five songs many times in French which is our second language. In that situation, we focused primarily on the meaning of the words. Hearing it in Greek, a language in which we only know basic greetings and menu talk, we focused on the marriage between the sounds and rhythm of the language and the rise and fall of the melody. The translator, Michel Dimitri Calvacoressi, did a magnificent job. My guess is that he is fluent in both languages.
The second feature has more to do with Ms. Tziouvaras' delivery. Our preference is always for an expressive singer who augments vocal coloration with gesture and facial expression. To us, the goal of the singer of art songs seems to be bringing the listener into the world of the composer and poet. This young artist has the voice of an opera singer and the expressiveness of a cabaret singer.
In this case, we pictured a little village, perhaps on one of the smaller islands less touched by the modern world. We experienced the thrill of a proposal of marriage in "Chanson de la Mariée", the BDE of the Greek man in "Quel Galant m'est Comparable", and the joy of the festival in "Tout gai!" We felt the romantic longing in "Chanson des Cueilleuses de Lentisques" and the simple spirituality of "Là-bas, vers l'église". It was a magnificent visit to another time and place. We felt transported.
The rest of the well curated program provided additional fulfillment and served to show the versatility of the singer. We generally associate Francis Poulenc with songs ironic or surreal. We had never heard his cycle Poèmes de Ronsard and were delighted to have made their acquaintance. Ms. Tziouvaras used her dynamic personality to bring each poem to life, evincing all the various colors of "Attributs", each belonging to a different goddess. We particularly enjoyed the bibulous "À son page". Singers and actors love to portray intoxication! We were happy with the singer's French diction.
Britten's A Charm of Lullabies similarly offers opportunities for a variety of emotions. Britten must have spent a lot of time searching for a wide spectrum of lullabies to set. William Blake's "A Cradle Song" rhymes and scans but we didn't think Britten made the most of the vocal line. We preferred Robert Burns' "A Highland Balou" for which the singer adopted a wee Scottish accent and filled the song with parental pride. Robert Greene's "Sephestia's Lullaby" was just plain sorrowful. Thomas Randolph's "A Charm" was filled with parental irritation over a child who won't sleep; it was filled with angry threats! John Philip's "The Nurse's Song" had an a cappella introduction and conclusion. The harmonies in the piano seemed unsettled and uneasy. English diction was clear, which is not always the case.
It is much easier to focus on the quality of a singer's instrument and the technique of her/his singing when Italian is performed. Here we heard Mozart's concert aria "Ch'io me Scordi di te" and we were able to appreciate the singer's Italianate vowels and legato delivery, as well as the evenness throughout the register. The first verse is like a recitativo with spare accompaniment, made interesting by variations in tempo and dynamics. The sections that followed seemed like an aria and cabaletta. It would fit into any opera of the early 19th c.
The final work on the program was slightly less interesting. Brahms' Zigeunerlieder lack the Romany flavor of the Dvorak cycle. The music has a slight flavor but the text is rather generic poetry about love. Even in the most marvelous recitals, we find something to pick on and here it is. Like so many American singers, Ms. Tziouvaras is inconsistent with the final "ich" and "ig". In one line they would sound perfect and in the next they might be avoided altogether. This would be easy to remedy. A non speaker of German would never have noticed but we did.
We are a non speaker of Russian and therefore have no criticism of a gorgeous rendering of the seasonal "Spring Waters" by Rachmaninoff. It was sung with passion and filled us with longing for warmer weather.
This superlative recital was coached and accompanied by the excellent David Mayfield with Jinhee Park collaborating for the Poulenc and the Rachmaninoff. One couldn't ask for better support!
(c) meche kroop