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, April 13, 2014


Lachlan Glen and Kyle Bielfield (photo by Jordan Chaplecka}

What is the difference between a recital and a CD?  That's not a riddle but a question we have been asking ourselves during the fortnight since we came into possession of the chart-topping CD recorded by tenor Kyle Bielfield and collaborative pianist Lachlan Glen.

A number of answers come to mind but the most obvious one is that a recital is evanescent and very much "of the moment" whereas a CD is forever.  If you like it you can listen to it again.  And if you love it, as we do this recording, you can play it every day and find new delights each time you listen.

Another difference is the perfection that can be achieved in a recording studio that one cannot expect in a live recital. One other difference in this particular recording is that the songs have not been arranged in "sets" containing the works of one composer as they would be in a recital; rather they have been arranged to provide a balanced listening experience and to create a variety of moods by varying the tempi.

What is remarkable about "Stopping By" is the exquisite partnership between Mr. Bielfield's sweet tenor and Mr. Glen's fine collaborative piano.  All the songs are treated with equal respect.  The program notes distinguishe between "classically oriented" and "Americana".  We make no such distinctions.  Brahms set many folk songs which seem to our ears no less worthy than settings of renowned poets.

Our particular taste leans toward settings of text that rhymes and scans.  Thus it is that the songs of Stephen Foster, called "the father of American song" filled us with pleasure.  Made famous by Marilyn Horne in our own time, "Beautiful Dreamer" is here given an exquisite performance with a perfect ending in the upper register; in Foster's setting of the sad "Gentle Annie" Michael Samis' cello makes a lovely contribution.  Here is proof that a folk tune can be made into art.

Going from the earliest entry in this survey of American song to the most recent, Leonard Bernstein's "Dream with Me" tickled our ears with excellent phrasing on the part of all three artists, as did his "Spring Will Come Again" in which Mr. Bielfield seems to caress each word. Again, Mr. Samis' cello was a welcome addition to the music.

But our absolute favorite song in the album is Irving Berlin's "Change Partners"; anyone who has yearned for a person who was "taken" can relate to the futile hopefulness.  Mr. Bielfield's heart and soul was in this one!

A special treat is hearing three settings of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening".  The splendid poetry seems to have inspired three equally fine but different compositions.  Perhaps the most accessible is that of Samuel Barber and the most melancholy that of John Duke in which the piano is given a superb prelude and postlude.  But Ned Rorem's is no less terrific for its spareness.

Two folk songs arranged by Aaron Copland captured the ear with their directness and simplicity: "Long Time Ago" and the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts".  Paul Bowles' "In the Woods" requires the singer to whistle in imitation of birdsong; to our ears it sounded exactly like a mating call; we loved it.  Ned Rorem's brief gem "Snake" had a slithery vocal line and a churning piano.

"From the Land of the Sky-Blue Waters" by Charles Wakefield Cadman is a lovely old-fashioned ballad with some nice figuration in the piano.  Charles Griffes "The Water Lily" has an impressionistic feel.  Songs by Amy Beach, Celius Dougherty and Mark Abel are also represented in this compendium of American song.

By now you will have realized that this banquet of song offers something for everyone to enjoy.  We have mentioned our favorites but with further listening we are sure to appreciate some of the less accessible songs.  Please feel free to comment below on your favorites!

© meche kroop

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