Michael Brofman, William Socolof, Elisabeth Marshall, and Brandon Bell
We have long been a fan of the Brooklyn Art Song Society and a great admirer of the illuminating programs designed by Artistic Director Michael Brofman. Our regular attendance having been disrupted by Covid and geographical distance, we looked forward to our pilgrimage to Brooklyn for a very special concert, part of The Dichter Project. This year's entry focused on the poetry of Joseph von Eichendorff, a major star in the firmament of Germany's 19th c. Romanticism.
Indeed, his poetry is the most often set of all of Germany's poets, and it is easy to see why. Reading it aloud in German feels like a musical experience. His lines rhyme and scan and beg to be set to music. Apparently, we are not alone in this opinion. Among the many composers who have set his poetry are Schumann, Wolf, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Pfitzner, Strauss, and Zemlinsky. For last night's concert, Schumann and Wolf were the chosen two.
In our opinion, Schumann made the more likeable of the two. There is something about Schumann's melodic invention that stays in the ear long after the hearing. His writing is entirely sincere and direct; it goes straight to the heart but is also "pictorial" in that it inspires the imagination to create a scene.
Brandon Bell, the baritone to whom was given the first half of the program, comprising Liederkreis, Op.39 , took his cue from the writing and delivered each of the dozen songs in the same sincere direct fashion. Yes, we have heard more dramatic performances of, say, "Waldesgespräch" but we found no fault in Mr. Bell's interpretation which evinced his fine baritonal texture.
We beg your indulgence Dear Reader, for a couple personal stories. Once, riding through Bhutan with a non-English speaking driver, we listened to a tape playing a folk song in Bhutanese. Of course, we did not understand the words but we immediately felt the same emotions we feel when listening to "In der Fremde". Later, we requested the guide to ask the driver what that song was about. You have probably guessed it--a man far from his homeland feeling nostalgia and missing his parents!
The second story is a bit more embarrassing. With all of the arrogance of a first year composition student, we chose Eichendorff's "Wehmut" to set to music. We own that the melody wasn't bad but we knew nothing about writing for piano and the piece lies hidden at the bottom of some drawer. It was like trying to rewrite Shakespeare and we are sure that our composition teacher worked very hard to hide his amusement.
Returning now to last night's excellent concert, the second half comprised settings of different works by Hugo Wolf. We had hoped to hear at least one of the same songs for comparison with Schumann's settings but that was not to be the case. The set was shared between soprano Elisabeth Marshall and bass-baritone William Socolof who seems to be making a big splash in the music scene lately, winning lots of prizes.
We find Wolf's music to be far less accessible to the ear than Schumann's and probably far more difficult to sing. The piano part seems to be denser and the tender moments fewer and farther between. Regular readers will recall that we have great antipathy for the music stand and our heart sank to see both singers glancing down and looking up again, such that the communicative spell was broken.
Mr. Socolof was not the singer listed in the season's brochure so we are going to cut him some slack, imagining that he was not given sufficient time to memorize the nine songs. We have a high opinion of his artistry but we found our attention focusing more on Mr. Brofman's intense piano performance. The stentorian nature of "Der Freund" gave way to the charming story of the feckless "Der Musikant", told with some frisky staccato.
At this point, soprano Elisabeth Marshall took over for "Verschwiegene Liebe" and continued to use that loathed music stand. We cannot think of an excuse for this since the singer was listed on the original season's program and had plenty of time to learn three songs. We would welcome another opportunity to hear her sing under different circumstances.
We are sure that there were audience members who did not mind but we attend lieder recitals to feel the contact with the poet and the composer, as channeled by the performer. We want to feel that connection and when it is missing, we have the thought that we may as well have stayed home and listened to a CD (of which we have a huge collection, although we understand no one listens to CD's anymore).
And so, we shifted our attention to the piano which Mr. Brofman plays so well. Each song was given its due. We particularly enjoyed the tender moments of "Nachtzauber". In "Soldat I" Mr. Brofman captured both the martial rhythms and also the humor of a man who will escape if his sweetheart speaks of marriage.
To return to the topic of Eichendorff, he was not only a poet but also a novelist, a critic, and a playwright. It is interesting to note that much of his poems were integral parts of his novellas. One might find it amusing to read the poetry and to try to imagine the character that speaks it and what the situation was. Perhaps this knowledge might yield a fascinating evening!
© meche kroop