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.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Nathaniel LaNasa and Silvie Jensen

Silvie Jensen is a versatile mezzo-soprano who has made quite a name for herself in many genres: opera, lieder, oratorio, and commissioned new works.  We were fortunate to be invited to enjoy her artistry in a private recital at Norton Hall--up close and intimate as lieder recitals are best enjoyed (and should always be, were it not for financial considerations).

The first half of the program was devoted to Schubert, and if there was ever a better composer of lieder we cannot think of one.  His setting of Franz Schober's "An die Musik", which opened the program, is the perfect tribute to the musical arts and an expression of the poet's gratitude.  Ms. Jensen sang it with consummate depth of feeling and communicative skills such that we were reminded of our own gratitude.

We are accustomed to hearing Die Winterreise sung by men and rarely hear it performed by a woman although there is a recording of it sung by Christa Ludwig.  Last night we heard Ms. Jensen sing several selections from it and pushed aside any judgments and just listened to the music.  Her artistry was such that we completely forgot the risk she was taking. Accompanied by the fine piano partner Nathaniel LaNasa, we were swept away to the lonely wintry landscape through which the poet plods, trying to escape from the despair of a broken heart.

Count on Schubert to limn a dozen shades of grief.  In "Gute Nacht", we hear the poet's disappointment as he sets out on his journey.  The song is strophic but our two artists made each verse sound new.  In "Der Lindenbaum" the gentle opening yields to the forceful pianistic and vocal depiction of "die kalten Winde" which chilled us, even in the warm room.

Both artists are experts at coloring the words.  The self-pity of "Wasserflut", the nostalgia of "Auf dem Flüsse", the false cheer of the dreamer in "Frühlingstraum", the menace of "Die Krähe", the morbidity of "Das Wirtshaus", and the mysterious resolve of "Der Leiermann" were all communicated.  Even in the repeated notes of "Der Wegweiser", there was not a hint of tedium.

We must add that Ms. Jensen's German diction was flawless and permitted us to pay full attention to the performance and none whatsoever to the translations.  Her French was just as fine in a cycle of songs by Poulenc entitled La Fraicheur et le Feu.

Although we do not understand Czech, we loved the sound of it and the delightful folk melodies of Bohuslav Martinu who wrote in the same time period as Poulenc.  We particularly enjoyed the charming "Touha" with its frisky piano part, as well as the lament "Smutny Mily".  We would love a second hearing of these songs.

Finally, Ms. Jensen and Mr. LaNasa performed selections from Britten's settings of folk songs.  We always love hearing the tale of "The Brisk Young Widow" and "The Salley Gardens" in which the poetry by W.B. Yeats inspired a lovely vocal line.

We were completely satisfied by this recital; but there was an encore that added a special thrill.  We never would have foreseen the smoky seductive timbre with which this cool Nordic beauty invested the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen.  Let us just say WOW and be done with it.

Although we understand that rehearsal time was short, we found the teamwork to be impressive.  Both Ms. Jensen and Mr. LaNasa are excellent interpreters and matched each other beautifully in their phrasing and dynamics.  We would gladly hear the two of them tackle the entire cycle of  Die Winterreise.  Perhaps next Winter?

© meche kroop

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