|Curtain Call with all the young artists of Renée Fleming's Song Studio|
For many years we had shared our birthday with Marilyn Horne's Birthday Week at Carnegie Hall (and even before she moved it to Carnegie Hall). Now we are happy to share it with renowned and beloved soprano Renée Fleming who shares our own goal of supporting and celebrating young singers.
Last night at Zankel Hall, Ms. Fleming related her admiration for the magical art form that combines poetry and music in a highly intimate fashion. Zankel Hall, in our opinion, is way too large to achieve intimacy; but the number of people wanting to attend this concert apparently dictated the choice.
The students chosen are all gifted and have been singing around the country and also abroad; this week of study and master classes can be thought of as polishing the gems. We hope it's not out of bounds to say that the lovely costuming could be considered settings for the polished gems. If no one sang we might have thought we were attending a fashion show!
But sing they did, so we will focus on that aspect. We confess that our appreciation is often affected by the choice of the material. A familiar song by a composer of whom we are fond can produce welcome memories and feelings of recognition. Being introduced to a composer who is unknown to us can produce feelings of discovery and delight.
Such was the case hearing Xenia Puskarz Thomas singing "Kolysanka", a Polish lullaby by Stanislaw Niewiadomski, a composer unknown to us. We were unable to learn anything about him online except what we could translate from the German; he was not only a composer but a director, teacher, and critic. What was important to us was the beauty of the language as sung by this lovely mezzo-soprano; how anyone could create such a lovely legato line in this consonant-heavy language is beyond us!
Ms. Thomas continued to give us joy in a cleverly staged "scene" created from Mahler's "Verlor'ne Müh" from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. There was plenty of humor to be uncovered in an importuning woman trying to get the attention of a newspaper-reading man who wants nothing to do with her. Baritone Dominik Belavy did a fine job as the indifferent man, growing ever more hostile as the woman kept trying harder. Richard Fu gave his customary conviction as collaborative the pianist.
Although Stravinsky is a bit modern for our taste and the text of "A Song of the Dew" did nothing for us, we loved the way mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn filled the verses with varying colors and moods and made dramatic sense of the song by shaping. Collaborative pianist Nara Avetisyan was right with her, alternating lovely arpeggi and sharp staccato passages; the duo brought the work to a dramatic climax.
Soprano Natalie Buickians, accompanied by Sandy Lin on the piano, captivated us with "De dónde venis, amore?" from Joaquin Rodrigo's Cuatro madrigales amatorios. The piece is short but pungent with the suspicious singer giving her wayward lover a hard time.
It has been a week since we heard for the first time "Hat dich die Liebe berührt" by Joseph Marx. In our review we expressed the wish to hear more of him, so imagine our glee when soprano Meghan Kasanders performed this impassioned song, accompanied by the always brilliant Cameron Richardson-Eames. We also enjoyed Alban Berg's "Nacht", given an hypnotic performance by this delightful duo.
Our dear friend, pianist Lachlan Glen, was all excited to hear songs by the unfortunately short-lived Lili Boulanger. We were excited to hear the voice of soprano Anneliese Klenetsky whose performances at Juilliard had made such an impression on us. It was only the final song of the set "Nous nous aimerons tant", sung in a register low enough to understand the words, that our expectations were met.
Ms. Klenetsky's collaborative pianist Anna Smigelskaya enhanced the performance measurably with her gentle hands emphasizing the tender aspect of the text.
We were more than pleased by tenor Eric Carey's performance, accompanied by Tomomi Sato's fine work at the piano. We are crazy about Schubert and thought the pair made fine sense of "An die Entfernte", exhibiting a great deal of nuance in this song of loss. One cannot go wrong with text by Goethe who also supplied the text for "Rastlose Liebe" in which Ms. Sato's piano evinced the perpetual motion of someone trying to escape the inevitable.
"Stay in My Arms", with music and text by Marc Blitzstein, struck us as surprising and satisfying with interesting internal rhymes. It seemed as if it should be part of an opera and was quite a departure from what we expect from Blitzstein.
We do love the Spanish language and greatly enjoyed Jaime León's "Rima"; it seems to us that Spanish composers held onto melody in the 20th c. at a time when American composers were annihilating it! Baritone Laureano Quant, whom we know from Manhattan School of Music, gave it an affecting emotional performance.
What we didn't know about Mr. Quant is that he is also a composer; he performed two selections from his cycle Sombras which he strangely separated by the insertion of "Rima". The selections were dramatic and dark and should have been performed consecutively. It is brave indeed to perform works that one has written. There is just so much riding on the performance! Toni Ming Geiger was a worthy piano collaborator; we heard a lot of low grumbling in the accompaniment.
The closing number was astonishing. The hall went dark and we thought there might have been a power failure. We were wrong. The stage was set for a dramatic performance by baritone Johnathan McCullough, whom we have often reviewed. Accompanied by Michael Sikich on the piano and projected videos of a father and his child, Mr. McCullough gave a powerful performance of David T. Little's "Two Marines" from his cycle Soldier Songs.
We later read Mr. Little's text on the page and the words themselves, replete with anger and loss, are stinging and relevant with their anti-war message. There were interesting lighting effects and an empty pair of boots spotlighted at the end with Mr. McCullough's voice rising to near falsetto.
Baritone Dominik Belavy is one of our Juilliard favorites. He performed selections from Ravel's Histoires naturelles, employing his story-telling gift to portray three different members of the animal kingdom. He utilized ample gesture, showing sympathy for the disappointed peacock. We especially enjoyed his portrayal of the bossy guinea hen. John Robertson's accompaniment was sturdy, if perhaps a bit heavy-handed at times.
What we did not appreciate was the audience applauding after every song, interrupting the flow of the set. Actually they did that all evening, to our surprise. We would expect an audience of song lovers to know better!
Tenor Randy Ho performed three songs by Gerald Finzi, accompanied by Celeste Marie Johnson. We did not relate at all to the first two songs, although we adore Thomas Hardy as a novelist. However, the final song, "The Market Girl", rhymed and scanned and tickled us. Mr. Ho's diction was perfect so we could appreciate the sentiment as well as the rhyming.
What an event! With Ms. Fleming as our Host and Artistic Director and Gerald Martin Moore as Program Curator, one would expect no less. We only regret that we were unable to attend the master classes taught by Ms. Fleming, Elina Garança and Hartmut Holl. We love monitoring progress! However, dear reader, you can read an account of two of the classes, written by guest reviewer Ellen Godfrey, in an earlier entry.
Photos of the classes can be seen on our Facebook page Voce di Meche.
© meche kroop