We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, February 15, 2020


Avi Avital and Bridget Kibbey in The Crypt

We imagine that the Crypt of the Church of the Intercession is still resounding with the heavenly music provided last night by harpist Bridget Kibbey and mandolinist Avi Avital. We are always captivated by novelty and the combination of harp and mandolin opened aural doors for us. The stone arches and vaults of The Crypt amplified the overtones of the two stringed instruments in such a fashion that we were transported to new places.

Andrew Ousley's Death of Classical is famous for providing unique entertainments in unique venues and The Crypt is just such a venue. His presentations are of an exclusive nature with room for about sixty music lovers; we are always thrilled to be a part of this group, even when they applaud in the middle of a work. We wonder whether they are ignorant of the work itself or ignorant of concert etiquette but wish they could be instructed not to interrupt the flow.

The two main pieces on the program were song cycles by two 20th c. Spanish composers. Manuel de Falla composed Siete Canciones Populares Españolas for Soprano and Piano in 1914, settings of folk songs from different parts of Spain. We have lost track of the number of times we have heard it in recital. It has been transcribed for guitar but hearing it performed by this novel pairing of instruments was a completely new experience.

We cannot deny that we heard the words in our mind's ear, especially sung by Isabel Leonard, but the emotional connection was somewhat altered. Most remarkable for us was the devastation we felt during "Asturiana". An individual approaches a pine tree for consolation and the tree wept along with him. A simple idea but so heartbreaking!

Joaquin Rodrigo, another compositional titan from Spain, composed Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios in 1948. They cover a variety of amatory situations from the grief of an unmarried woman to the excitement of a young man infatuated with a woman with loose hair. Nor in this case were we able to ignore the words which we know so well from vocal recitals. Perhaps this even heightened our appreciation.

The program also included Marc Lavry's 1945 Three Jewish Dances which carried no vocal baggage. We simply enjoyed the three wedding dances, the first of Ashkenazic and klezmer derivation, the second of Yemenite origin, and the final Israeli entry of Hava Nagilah, the dance known as the Hora.

Mr. Lavry composed the dances for piano and there were originally more than three. Later he orchestrated them for violin and piano, and then for violin and orchestra. We listened to a few of these versions online and we must say that we preferred what we heard last night.

We have always loved the harp and have a memory of hearing legendary harpist Nicanor Zabaleta playing a solo recital at the 92nd St. Y, which convinced us to make our life in NYC! Since then, we have only heard the harp as part of the orchestra but always love the sound. What a treat to hear it once more up close and personal.

We know next to nothing about the mandolin but found it to be highly expressive and given over to interesting techniques like the tremolo. It isn't every day that we get to hear such unique textures as the two instruments created together.

An encore of Brazilian jazz had us suppressing a samba in our seat!

© meche kroop

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