|Nathaniel LaNasa and Gregory Feldmann|
Guest Review by Ellen Godfrey:
Friday night in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, the audience was treated to a performance by this year’s winners of the 2019 Joy in Singing International Art Song competition. This marks the 56th award debut recital and is the second year that the competition took place in Weill Hall.
The mission of The Joy in Singing, Art Song Institute is to nurture the love for art song, and to explore the variety in classical songs through education and performance. This mission is implemented by developing and refining exceptional vocal talent. It also offers workshops and training in all facets of song performance.
Thanks to the generous support of patrons and other music lovers, the foundation is able to offers multiple prizes each year and one grand prize. This year’s competition’s grand prize was awarded to baritone Gregory Feldmann and pianist Nathaniel LaNasa.
New York based Gregory Feldmann is a rising young singer, both in opera and art song recitals. Just a few weeks ago he sang the role of the Composer in Juilliard Opera’s sold out performances of Virgil Thomson’s The Mother of Us All, held at the Met Museum. This summer he will return to Opera Theatre of St. Louis to sing Morales in their production of Carmen and also will cover Oliver Sacks in the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s Awakening.
Mr. LaNasa is very interested in contemporary classical music and is discovering fresh possibilities for sonority and gesture in music; he has had several works written for him. He is a vocal coach and a staff pianist at the Juilliard School of Music. He has also performed in musical venues in NYC, including Alice Tully Hall and in the New York cabaret, Le Poisson Rouge. The two artists are frequent collaborators.
On February 27th, the pair made their Weill Recital Hall debut performing songs that were written by composers who were censored under the Nazi regime. The mission of the Nazis was to destroy and suppress what they considered to be “degenerate” music. The pair were amazed how such music has been ignored and felt that the wonderful music created by these great composers, in the face of such stressful conditions, should be heard.
The concert was made up of six groups of songs. Before each group of songs, the two men gave a short preview of the songs and composers. Mr. Feldmann and Mr. LaNasa, both superb musicians, have a wonderful connection, obviously enjoying working together. Each seems to know what the other is thinking. Mr. LaNasa plays with great sensitivity and deep feeling which is the best way to also describe Mr. Feldmann’s singing. His beautiful baritone is even from top to bottom and he has great control of his fine instrument. He is indeed a master storyteller, a quality we look for in singers of art songs.
The first group of songs was a light-hearted group, beginning with “Berlin im Licht”, a cabaret song by Kurt Weill, who fled the Nazi’s in 1933 and remained in New York the rest of his life. The artists had just the right feel for this music. The next three songs were written by Franz Schreker. The Nazi’s removed him from the directorship of two of his posts in the 1930’s; he died in 1934. His song “Sommerfaden” (summer threads) is about the end of summer. Mr. LaNasa's delicate playing conveyed the light spirit of summer and the rushing waters. Mr. Feldmann colored his voice with tenderness.
The next group of songs was composed by Alexander von Zemlinsky, who fled from Austria to the United States in 1938 to avoid the Nazis. His song ”Entbietung” or “Invitation” is perfect for the baritone voice. The song concerns a man praising his loved one and asking when she will come to him. The singer's diction was very clear as he started off singing lightly with a crescendo toward the end.. Another song, “Nun schwills Der See so bang” (“Now the sea swells so fearfully”) is a short exciting song requiring a good sized voice with wonderful arpeggi supporting the singer. Both artists excelled.
The final group of the first part of the concert comprised songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a pianist and classical composer, best known for his music for Hollywood movies. As the Nazi party was gaining strength in 1934, the famous theatre director Max Reinhardt invited Korngold to Hollywood. “Austrian Soldier’s Farewell” tells of a soldier saying farewell to a girl as he is about to leave for war; the music has a modern sound. In "Vesper" Mr. Feldmann kept his voice high, still maintaining the beauty of the sound while Mr. LaNasa was brilliant in his imitation of the bells. Composers can't go wrong setting text by Josef von Eichendorff!
After the intermission we heard songs composed by Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, and Hanns Eisler. Both Ullmann and Haas ended up in Theresienstadt after having been fired from their jobs in music. In 1944 both of them were gassed in the death camp Auschwitz-Berkenau. Eisler escaped death by going into exile in other countries when these works were banned by the Nazis. He arrived in America in1938 and Brecht arrived there in 1941 after many long journeys. The program ended, as you will see, with the product of their collaboration!
Ullman’s humorous Liederbuch des Hapis was composed in the face of the horrors of the war. “Worausbestimmung” was set in waltz rhythm and was marked by some dissonance. There was a jaunty tune played with great fun by Mr. LaNasa. “Betrunken” began with some dialogue underscored by the piano and then morphed into a drinking song. Singers seem to love drinking songs and Mr. Feldmann revelled in his performance without losing his stellar vocal technique.
The next song cycle Four Songs on Chinese Poetry was composed by Pavel Haas to a text in Czech. In “Far is my Home, O Moon” the piano started with a dark color and mysterious sound, played gently. One can feel the glow of the moon; the ending is very quiet. In the song “I hear the cry of the wild geese”, the poet laments being so far away from home. This was sung with great care and understanding.
The program ended with “Friedenslied,” a strophic song composed by Hanns Eisler after World War II with lyrics by Bertold Brecht. This song calls for peace to the earth, to the home, to all nations and all people. The song is both simple and profound, affecting the audience due largely to its superlative and sincere performance.
There was a standing ovation at the end calling for an encore, which brought forth Zemlinsky's "Empfängnis". Cheers to the artists for this inspired program and masterly performances. The unique program merits future performances both here and abroad.
© meche kroop