|Charles Weaver, Nils Neubert, Yuri Kim, Kate Maroney, Dmitri Dover, Michael Brofman, Sarah Brailey, and Jesse Blumberg
"The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of...." No, not Texas, but Brooklyn! What a splendid season opener was presented by the Brooklyn Art Song Society, helmed by pianist Michael Brofman! It was definitely worth an hour on the subway and that's saying quite a lot.
The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church has fine acoustics that provided an excellent venue for the soft sounds of Charles Weaver's lute as he accompanied a group of peerless singers, none of whom lapsed into the boring type of interpretations that often present themselves in the face of early music.
John Dowland's songs were composed four centuries ago yet manage to sound fresh today. The texts are in Elizabethan English; they scan and rhyme and match the lovely vocal lines in a way that is heard no more, sad to say, in contemporary song-makers. Mr. Weaver's playing is beyond wonderful.
The opening number "Unquiet Thoughts" was sung in the most handsome harmonies by soprano Sarah Brailey, mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney, tenor Nils Neubert, and baritone Jesse Blumberg. We thought of a tapestry with 5 threads woven together, appearing together, separating, overlapping.
The remaining songs held to that impossibly high standard. Like songs of every epoch, the inspiring texts have to do with love--love longed for, love achieved, love unrequited. Mr. Neubert has the sweetest tenor and a fine vibrato that was perfect for "Come Again: Sweet Love Doth Now Invite". No less sweet was Mr. Blumberg's baritone in "Sweet Stay a While".
Several songs followed that were not about sweetness ; but perhaps the sweetness of longing is a different kind of sweet. In "Flow My Tears", Mr. Blumberg matched perfectly with Ms. Maroney. and the ensemble returned for "Would My Conceit".
The singing was just as fine in the second half of the program although it seemed to our ears that Benjamin Britten's arrangements of Henry Purcell's delicate songs was a bit heavy-handed and overwhelming. There is nothing new in a composer wanting to put his own stamp on other composers' works but our ears are better attuned to the delicacies of the 17th c.
Several of the songs had been heard mainly sung by counter-tenors and were, last night, strange to the ear. Accompanied by the wonderful Yuri Kim on the piano, Mr. Neubert and Mr. Blumberg gave an exuberant account of "Sound the Trumpets".
"Music for Awhile" is one of our perennial favorites and Mr. Neubert sang it well over a piano arrangement that sounded strangely portentous. But that's the way Britten heard it, we suppose.
Mr. Blumberg sang "Mad Bess" with his customary skill at storytelling. We have been enjoying his singing for over a decade and noticed new depth and breadth in the lower register that is most exciting.
Dmitri Dover, always excellent, took over the piano accompaniment for the next set of songs which was given to the lovely ladies to sing. The lyrical "Shepherd, Leave Decoying" united the golden tones of Ms. Brailey with the silvery sound of Ms. Maroney. (Interestingly, their stylish gowns were respectively golden and silver!)
We got to hear Ms. Brailey sing one of our favorite songs "Sweeter than Roses" with a rather romantic piano part and the lovely "Evening Hymn" sung by Ms. Maroney. Ms. Brailey returned for a stunning solo "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation" in which Mary expresses doubts in her faith, accompanied by Mr. Brofman himself. Very moving.
The remainder of the season continues its focus on England. On October 6th one can hear more Britten and some settings of Shakespearean text, at Deutsches Haus at NYU. And on Oct. 22nd there will be a celebration of Ned Rorem at Bargemusic.
(c) meche kroop