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.

Sunday, December 3, 2023


Yihao Zhou and Joseph Parrish

We could begin our review by noting how well-curated the recital was, how deeply resonant was Joseph Parrish's spacious bass-baritone instrument, how crisp his diction, how apt his phrasing, and how his well-rehearsed gestures and facial expressions came across as totally spontaneous.

That would all be true! But something more important happened that brings us to the very purpose of music. At its best, music is healing and transformative. We arrived at the Engelman Recital Hall of The Baruch Performing Arts Center in a miserable state after a week of floods and computer disasters. An hour later, we walked out all smiles and lighter than air.  Hours later, the uplifted feeling remains.

We attend concerts and recitals on a regular basis. A few are disappointing, leaving us struggling for some kind words to put on the page. Most are pleasing, allowing us to be generous in our praise. Rarely do we spend an hour or two with an artist that brings us tears of joy, joy that there can be such artistic glories that transcend excellence.

How does one account for this magical effect that makes us forget the intricacies of vocal production and interpretation? It is the ineffable quality that intrigues us and elevates a performer to the heavenly realm. Part of it would seem to be the ability to communicate directly with the audience, to make each member of the audience feel as if the singer is singing to him/her. Even as Mr. Parrish introduced each set of songs we knew he was involved in what he was singing and cared as deeply for the text as for the music. As soon as he opened his mouth, we got the impression that he was self-effacing and allowing the song to come through him, not from him.

The program opened and closed with material that was not on the program. Mr. Parrish puts his own stamp on whatever he does and sitting at the piano, accompanying himself in Bob Telson's "Calling You", we felt something calling us. We have already ordered a copy of Bagdad Cafe, the film for which that song was written.

The first set of songs featured two songs by Donizetti. "Sull'onda cheta e bruna" was a lively one with the able collaborative pianist Yihao Zhou creating a barcarolle rhythm in the piano; "Amore e morte" was solemn with a great depth of feeling, limning different colors in the artist's palette. Donaudy's "Come l'alladoletto" offered a graceful legato. Granados' "El majo olvidado" was filled with pain in both voice and piano.

 A set of German songs brought new colors and new delights. Wisely chosen were two of Hugo Wolf's more accessible songs. In "Der Tambour" Mr. Parrish offered us the loneliness of a little drummer boy conscripted into the army who misses his mother. "Fussreise" is one of those joyful 19th c. songs extolling the joys of wandering through nature. "Aus! Aus!" is a Mahler song we had never heard before about a soldier taking leave of his sweetheart. He is joyful. She is not. One had to admire the crisp German consonants that never cheated the vowels. One was also impressed by how the artist assumed the role assigned by the text.

A trio of romances by Rachmaninoff showed off the lower end of Mr. Parrish's register and the warm texture of his instrument. We particularly enjoyed the delicacy of "The Lilacs" which succeeded in bringing forth a sense memory of Lilac Walk in Central Park in late Spring.

Ravel's cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée was sung with appropriate acting, giving high contrast between the prayerful and the intoxicated. The Gallic phrasing and line were just about parfait. 

The four songs that followed paid tribute to Afro-American composers of serious art songs, taking us way beyond the obligatorily programmed spiritual. The main thing we noticed was that each song was more melodic and pleasing to the ear than most American art songs of the early 20th c. We find vey few composers who can set the English language and these four truly hit the spot, deserving wider recognition. We heard Harry Burleigh's "Her Eyes, Twin Pools of Mystic Light", H. Leslie Adams' "For You There is No Song", and Florence Price's "Song to the Dark Virgin" all delivered with completely comprehensible words which we find so rare in the singing of English text. Also heard was Charles Brown's "A Song Without Words" which illustrated how a great performer can make much of humming, just as he can with a vocalise.

The audience paid rapt attention throughout and a standing ovation required an encore which we believe was the spiritual "Great is Thy Faithfulness".

In sum, it was a well-spent evening for which we are most grateful. Although Mr. Parrish has been on our radar and in our reviews for barely two years, we are not alone in recognizing his talent. Prizes and honors are already being heaped upon him. We might add that his artistry on the operatic stage is reflected in his art song delivery. To read our prior reviews, you can, Dear Reader, enter his name in the search bar on the right side of the page.  We can scarcely wait to see what the next two years will bring.

© meche kroop

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