|Grace Francis, Megan Moore, Xu Cheng, Aleea Powell, Marina Iwao, Junseok Hwang,
Francesco Barfoed and Lila Dufy
We heard a finely curated program of lieder and Russian art song at last night's Liederabend at Juilliard. Over the past several years we have gained an appreciation of Russian opera and song which, at first, seemed inaccessible. As the sound became more familiar to our ear we noticed just how expressive the language is and how well the Russian masters set the text, both in rhythm and pitch. Fortunately coach and curator Natalia Katyukova chose the program well. Likely, she was also responsible for the young singers taking the stage with presence, introducing themselves, and telling a bit about the songs they would sing.
In the final set, mezzo-soprano Megan Moore and collaborative pianist Grace Francis made a fine team and performed selections from Tchaikovsky's Seven Romances, Op. 47. "If only I'd known" is a strophic song based on a folk tune with text by Tolstoy. Ms. Moore sang it with escalating urgency and dynamic variety. We enjoyed the melismatic passages.
What affected us the most was "Was I not a blade of grass in the field", another strophic song with some stunning melismatic passages and a powerful climax. We have heard Ms. Moore in recital and competitions-- singing an appealing Cenerentola and a resolute Dorabella as well as the Komponist--always admiring her lyricism and dramatic skills. But last night she made us weep in her deeply committed rendering of a young woman's hopeless situation.
Fortunately, the set and the concert ended on a more cheerful note with "Whether day dawns" in which Ms. Francis let loose with a passionate postlude. We always love it when a pianist who has been delicately supporting the singer is able to tear up the keyboard like that and show a different side of her artistry.
The other three singer/collaborative pianist pairs were also fine. Soprano Lila Dufy has a pleasing tone and lovely resonance in the upper range. Francesco Barfoed accompanied with soft hands lending sensitive support. The generous use of gesture seen in the two selections from Strauss' Mädchenblumen would have made the Rachmaninoff songs even better. Perhaps the fact that she translated the Strauss herself had given her more ease in the interpretation. The evocative text by Pushkin in "Muza" could definitely profit by some storytelling.
Soprano Aleea Powell deserves recognition for taking the stage in spite of a recent tragedy that she shared with the audience. She has a gracious stage presence and sang four songs by Richard Strauss accompanied by the piano precision of Xu Cheng who made some lovely rippling sounds in "Ständchen". We would very much like to see (or rather to hear) Ms. Powell achieve some consistency in her final "ch"s. Like so many American singers, she softens them so much that they go missing on us. We want to hear this lovely young woman again.
We tend to be rather nit-picky with German but not all with Russian, which we do not speak! To our ears, everyone's Russian sounded just fine.
Baritone Junseok Hwang clearly loves to sing and is unafraid to show his enthusiasm. Pianist Marina Iwao consistently matched his emphases. In Schubert's "An Silvia", with text taken from Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona, he assumed the expansive tone of a bedazzled suitor.
In "An den Mond", Ms. Iwao produced such ripples on the piano that suggested nothing less than Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata which had been composed 14 years earlier. We have no evidence that Schubert heard Beethoven's famous sonata, but it is likely that he was influenced by the master. We loved the change of dynamics and the urgency of the central part. The third verse in a minor key was rendered with contrasting pathos.
We rarely hear songs by Mihail Glinka and were delighted that Mr. Hwang performed two of them. "To Molly" has an interesting rhythm and a challenging ascending passage at the end which echoes the text "rising to the heavens".
That phrase just about describes our spirits as we left this satisfying recital. It's always exciting for us to monitor students' progress as they move through the excellent Juilliard Vocal Arts program.
© meche kroop