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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Ken Noda, Brian Zeger, Paul Appleby
There are singers who are sensational on the opera stage and can create wonderful characters but who just do not come across well on the recital stage.  Tenor Paul Appleby manages to excel in both places.  What seems obvious to us is that he is totally enamored of the songs he sings and selflessly submerges his own identity so that the soul of the poet shines forth. 

When he steps out on the recital stage, as he did Sunday afternoon as part of a new series at Pace University, he addresses the audience in a way that makes one feel as if a dear friend were sharing his loving feelings with you.  His sweet voice caresses your ear in a way that is almost tactile.  His enthusiasm is conveyed as he tells you about the songs he will sing and you feel as if he is singing them just for YOU.  And that, reader, is a major gift.  His artistry is such that the supporting technique becomes invisible.

The first half of the recital was sung in impeccable German; accompanied by the wonderfully supportive Ken Noda, Mr. Appleby did complete justice to Beethoven's lovely "Adelaide" and sang five songs by Schubert.  Our personal favorite was "Im Abendrot"; according to Mr. Appleby, Schubert was not a particularly religious man, but his setting of Karl Gottlieb Lappe's text as sung by Mr. A. would move anyone into a spiritual state of mind.

We next enjoyed seven songs selected from Schumann's Myrten Op.25; as Mr. A. shared with the audience, this cycle was part of the composer's outpouring of song during the year 1840 when Herr Wieck's opposition to his daughter Clara's marriage to poor young Robert was trumped by the court.  One can hear his love for his bride reflected in the music.  "Widmung", a setting of a text by Rückert, is bursting with all-consuming passion.  Julius Mosen's text "Der Nussbaum" is a gentle lyrical account of a young woman dreaming of her coming marriage.

The set also included a couple drinking songs which allowed Mr. A. an opportunity to appear rather bibulous.  Following were two songs about Venice and gondoliers to texts by Thomas Moore which were translated into German by Ferdinand Freiligrath.

In the second half of the program, the acclaimed Brian Zeger took over the role of collaborative pianist, one at which he excels.  The songs were in English and although Mr. Appleby clearly threw himself into them with the same enthusiasm, we personally do not relate as much to 20th c. works as much as we do to works of the 19th c.  We miss the scanning and the rhyming which elicits a vocal line more agreeable to our ears.

We did enjoy the tinkling piano in Britten's "Fish in the Unruffled Lakes", a setting of text by Auden, and the quiet sombre chords of "Nocturne" in which the text rhymed and scanned in trochaic meter as did "Underneath the abject willow" which was of a friskier vein.

Two songs by Leonard Bernstein followed. "To what you said" is a dissonant setting of text by Walt Whitman.  Cellist Dane Johansen joined Mr. Appleby and Mr. Zeger and made some lovely music.  But we far preferred the accessible "Dream with Me" written for Peter Pan but bumped off the show.

Three songs by Harbison from Simple Daylight with texts by Michael Fried struck us as unlovely.  The very angry "Someday a Seed" could not measure up to Schumann's "Ich grolle nicht" on the same topic.

Two Langston Hughes poems set by John Musto left us similarly cold in spite of Mr. A.'s deeply committed performance.  Just call us a fugitive from the 19th c. wandering lost in the 20th!

© meche kroop

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