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, January 18, 2015


Brian Zeger and Susan Graham

As far as song recitals go, Susan Graham has everything one would wish for in a performer--stage presence, communicative skills, understanding of the text, linguistic perfection, a gorgeous instrument, a sensitive partnership with her collaborative pianist (the eminent Brian Zeger) and that something extra that makes people adore her.

Her performance at the conclusion of the Marilyn Horne Song Celebration at Zankel Hall seemed to be a lesson for prospective lieder singers and a superlative way to honor Ms. Horne, whose contributions to the world of song is legendary.  Significantly she has mastered the rare art of making French comprehensible.  We wish we could say the same for the other singers on the program.

Alfred Bachelet's "Chère nuit" was given a rapturous and romantic reading, as was "Quand je fus pris au pavillon" by Bachelet's contemporary Reynaldo Hahn.  Poulenc came along at a later period and his waltz "Les chemins de l'amour" filled us with nostalgia for our own sacred memories.  As encore, Ms. Graham and Mr. Zeger offered another Poulenc song of a more surrealistic nature--the well known languorous "Violon".

Of the rest of the program, we feel obligated to point out that it was not as celebratory as we had hoped.  Glamorous mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall made some fine music in Arnold Schoenberg's Vier Lieder, Op.2 with its many references to natural elements and colors--poet Richard Dehmel must have been very fond of gold and green, red and blue.  Ms. Hall has a fine stage presence and a fine instrument that sounds rather soprano-y for the most part.  

Her German was excellent but her French diction in Ravel's Cinq mélodies populaires grecques fell short.  A native born French speaker of my acquaintance shared the same opinion.  The words to these charming folk songs deserve to be understood! The melodies nonetheless came through with charm to spare.  Renate Rohlfing's accompaniment was marked by a delightfully soft touch.

A last minute replacement for a singer who was generously "lent out" to the Philharmonic, bass DeAndre Simmons has a marvelously resonant sound.  He and his piano partner, the superb Brent Funderburk, were asked to step in with a program they had already prepared for another engagement.  In the entire Brahms canon, we cannot think of a group of songs we like less than "Vier ernste Gesänge".  To our ears they are painfully preachy and the bible is not what we want to hear quoted in an evening of celebration. Perhaps we are alone in this opinion but that is how we felt.

That being said, Mr. Simmons sang them well with an expressive rich tone and fine German diction.  Mr. Funderburk's piano handled the many scale passages with elegance.  It is obvious that he studied with Mr. Zeger!

Edward Parks has a marvelous baritone that we have enjoyed to the point of fanaticism on prior occasions.  Last night his delivery of selections from Schubert's Schwanengesang did not live up to his earlier performances. Schubert knew he was dying at the time of their composition and the settings of Heine's poetry are tinged with underlying sadness, even when they appear cheerful at first hearing.

We always love the lilting "Das Fischermädchen" and the eerie arpeggios of "Die Stadt"; the music made by pianist Keun-A Lee was extraordinary.  We just wanted a little more color and variety from Mr. Parks, the color and variety he lent to Schubert the last time we heard him.

We got plenty of color and variety from soprano Alison King, accompanied by Peter Walsh, in a selection of songs by Pauline Viardot. This musical polymath should be included in more vocal recitals!  As a singer, she wrote exceptionally well for the voice.  Her Havanaise had some marvelous melodies and exciting rhythm.  

Ms. King sounded a lot better in German than she did in French, mainly because of the diction.  We understood every word of the delightful "Nixe Binsefuss" and she injected an interesting bit of irony in Ms. Viardot's setting of "Das ist ein Schlechtes Wetter" in which Mr. Walsh conveyed the state of the weather in stormy fashion. We prefer the Viardot setting of the Heine text to that of Richard Strauss.

And so the week of celebration came to a successful conclusion with Ms. Graham's stunning appearance.  Lieder lovers come from all over the world for this glorious week of song.  We hope some new converts were made.

© meche kroop

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