|Amy Owens, Michael Brofman, Spencer Myer, Sarah Nelson Craft, and Miori Sugiyama|
Michael Brofman, pianist par excellence and Founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Art Song Society, has a knack for devising seasons of song with interesting themes. For this season, their tenth, the theme is HOME with a focus on national identity. Friday night's concert explored Polish identity with works by Chopin and Szymanowski, an admirer of Chopin.
Not only does Mr. Brofman create interesting seasons which draw an ever-growing audience, but he has a knack for finding gifted young artists to interpret the works. This concert was a case in point. Sharing their vocal artistry were soprano Amy Owens and mezzo-soprano Sarah Nelson Craft, both of whom we have reviewed and enjoyed on prior occasions.
Collaborating on the keyboard were Mr. Brofman himself, as well as Miori Sugiyama and Spencer Myer, both B.A.S.S. regulars. The first half of the program comprised five of Chopin's seventeen songs, songs that he never made much of and which were not played until after his death. Interspersed were several of his brilliant mazurkas played by Ms. Sugiyama.
The mazurkas touched us deeply, both the famous ones like Op.7 #1 in B-Flat Major, the central minor section of which is heartbreaking, and the ones with which we are unfamiliar. They all share the typical rhythmicity of his unfortunate motherland and depth of feeling-- an intimacy which was brought out by Ms. Sugiyama. Although we have played some of Chopin's easy pieces, it was a real treat to hear Ms. Sugiyama make these challenging mazurkas sound easy. Watching her hands let us know that the sound gave only the illusion of ease.
The songs were charming, strophic, and melodic with a heavy emphasis on folk tunes. Just reading the lyrics in Polish made us wonder how a singer could possibly make the words musical and pleasing to the ear; Ms. Craft, although not Polish-speaking, made considerable effort to study the pronunciation of the difficult consonants and sounded fine to our ear. That she was on the book was forgivable in light of this challenge but we would love to hear the songs sung by a native Pole because we personally lose connection when a singer glances down at the score.
Nonetheless, her voice was warm and expressive with attention paid to phrasing and plenty of variety from one verse to the next. We particularly enjoyed "A Handsome Lad" in which the final couplet was repeated in each verse. It was an altogether appealing performance.
The second half of the program allowed Mr. Myer to shine in Karol Szymanowski's Métopes, Op. 29. The work was inspired by Homer's Odyssey and involved fancy fingerwork, trills, and some liquid arpeggi.
The songs by Szymanowski, a cycle entitled Songs of the Fairy Tale Princess, were sung by Ms. Owens in a bright clear soprano. "The Lonely Moon" seemed to capture the essence of moonlight and involved staccato passages. The punishing high tessitura never daunted Ms. Owens who provided interest by means of ample dynamic variety.
Although she only glanced at the score periodically, we had the same problem as we did with the Chopin. We actually are acquainted with a few Polish singers and hope to hear more Polish music in the future. We recall an absorbing production of Szymanowski's King Roger at Santa Fe Opera some years ago.
B.A.S.S.' s next entry this season will be on February 7th with works by Bartók, Kodaly, and Janáček with their own versions of national identity.
(c) meche kroop