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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Luca Pisaroni (photo by Marco Borggreve)
For us, an evening of 19th c. lieder might be our very favorite vocal event.   To have two truly incomparable artists onstage together in the not-too-large Zankel Hall was beyond our wildest dreams.  Bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni, known to us before last night as a world-class opera singer, gave every evidence of being a world-class recitalist; we were thrilled to see a new aspect of his artistry.  Likewise, we have never attended a solo recital in which Wolfram Rieger has been the collaborative pianist.  The teamwork of the two artists resulted in an evening that set the bar for vocal recitals.  We were transfixed.

Mr. Pisaroni is in perfect control of his instrument and chose wisely in his selections.  For many of the earlier songs in the program, he used the lighter baritonal qualities of his voice, enabling the flexibility necessary for the ornamentation;  he revealed the majesty and depth of the bass range later on when the songs called for it. 

He has impeccable diction, making every word audible and comprehensible--very valuable since no titles were projected and we could not tear our eyes away to read the translations in the program. His phrasing always made sense and his ability to change the feeling tone from song to song, and even within a song, allowed us to feel the feelings along with him.

Mr. Rieger is a piano partner any singer would be fortunate to work with.  In last night's performance, he seemed to breathe along with Mr. Pisaroni while always bringing out the emotional subtext of the song.  He has a light touch that always supports but never overwhelms the vocal line.  The ease with which his fingers fly over the keys is nothing short of astonishing.

We agree with the common belief that Schubert was the greatest composer of lieder, not just in his own century but for all time; his work has never been matched.  We only wish that contemporary composers could learn from his vocal lines; from the way he wrote for the voice, one would think his background was that of a singer.  We mention this because holding this belief does not take away from the genius of Mozart, who tossed off his songs as gifts; nor of Beethoven or Mendelssohn.  They were titans, all of them.

Most of the songs on the program were familiar to us so it pleased us to just sit back and allow Mr. Pisaroni's communicative skills to invite us into the world of each song.  From the set of Mozart songs, we enjoyed the delicacy of "Das Veilchen", the lovely light piano figurations in "Komm, liebe Zither" and the charm of "An Chloë".  But when Mr. Pisaroni sang the philosophical "Abendempfindung" we were moved to tears, perhaps not flooding down our cheeks but surely moistening our eyes as we contemplated the message of the transitory nature of life.

In the set of songs by Beethoven, we particularly enjoyed the piano accompaniment and the gentle melody of "Zärtliche Liebe".  Mr. Pisaroni brought out the humor in "Der Kuss" which is one of our very favorite songs. 

He put particular color into the set of songs by Mendelssohn.  The rhythmic motion of the galloping elves in "Neue Liebe" painted quite a picture in our mind's eye.  The familiar "Auf Flügeln des Gesanges" was given a particular lyrical spin.

The second half of the program was Schubert, all Schubert and nothing but Schubert.  (You won't hear any complaints from a woman who heard almost all of Schubert's 600 plus songs at the hands of Lachlan Glen and Jonathan Ware.)  It was in the first grouping, all settings of texts by Heinrich Heine, that we heard the depths of Mr. Pisaroni's vocal register and the depths of  Schubert's despair as well as Heine's irony and bitterness. "Der Atlas" is a grim song and "Ihr Bild" expresses intense loss.  What a relief it was to hear the cheerful barcarole "Das Fischermädchen".  In "Die Stadt" the diminished arpeggios in the piano lent a mysterious air.  "Der Doppelgänger" was given a solemn reading and a sense of eeriness.

The group of songs composed to texts by Goethe included the four-voiced highly dramatic "Erlkonig".  The narrator is neutral, the father's voice is lower and attempts to reassure the sick child and the erlkonig's voice is high and seductive.  Mr. Pisaroni nailed three of them especially the oily erlkonig, but the frightened child sounded too deep and forceful for our taste.    "Grenzen der Menschheit" gave the singer an opportunity to exercise the very bottom of his register and the sweetness of "Ganymed" with its shift from major to minor mode was a lovely contrast.

It was a most generous program and we were surprised and delighted that Mr. Pisaroni gave us two encores.  He charmingly announced that he was tired of singing in German and did two songs in Italian, one by Beethoven, "L'amante impaziente", and one by Schubert, "Il modo di prender moglie".  They were lovely songs but at this point I would have listened raptly if he were singing the phone book.

What a completely satisfying evening!  The next time this duo gives a recital, guess who will be first in line.

ⓒ meche kroop

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