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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Lachlan Glen, Dimitri Dover, Steven Eddy, and Lilla Heinrich Szász

Joy of Singing was born in 1958 as an award program to foster the performance of art songs with special attention paid to interpretation and communication.  It was begun by Winifred Cecil, a noted singer and teacher. The program continues and is flourishing under the musical direction of Paul Sperry . Every year the winner of the competition is given a recital. This year, the quality of the competitors was so high that the judges were obliged to share the prize.

Thus it was that we had the opportunity last night at Merkin Concert Hall to hear two gifted singers and two exemplary collaborative pianists perform a program of art songs in several languages and a variety of styles.

Soprano Lilla Heinrich Szász has impressed us since her days at Juilliard, eventually winning their 2013 Honor's Recital among many other honors, all richly deserved. She has a lively winning onstage personality and a glorious ringing instrument that she easily bends to her will.

Her collaborative pianist, Australian Lachlan Glen, is also well known to us for several years, having won us over by his producing all of Franz Schubert's songs over the period of a year--a delicious extravagance never to be forgotten.  If there is a better interpreter of Schubert alive today we would be surprised. Besides this, he has incredible sensitivity to the singer. We noticed him actually breathing with Ms. Szász in rhythm.

Naturally, Schubert songs were selected to open the program and we were glad for it. "Vedi quanto adoro ancora ingrato!" is a bit unusual for Schubert; it is sung in Italian, the setting of a text by Pietro Metastasio. It was the perfect vehicle to show off both passion and delicacy in both artists.

We also heard the sorrowful "Die Liebe hat gelogen", the gentle "Der Jüngling an der Quelle" in which Mr. Glen's piano became rather spry, and the intense "Die junge Nonne", the most familiar of the set. The two artists drew us in totally with Ms. Szász seemingly losing herself in the throes of religious ecstasy and Mr. Glen creating quite a storm in the piano.

From a century later came four folk songs set by Zoltán Kodály which Ms. Szász, whose roots are Transylvanian, sang in Hungarian.  Fortunately she translated them herself for the program. We heard cries of despair and poverty, not the cheerful folk songs of Brahms. Our favorite was the final song which bore a mournful melody. The final note hung suspended in mid air.

The final set comprised songs by Benjamin Britten, the first of which was a setting of a W.H. Auden poem "Fish in the Unruffled Lakes" which did not make much sense to us. We greatly preferred "The Salley Gardens" to a text by W. B. Yeats.  The final song "Calypso" from Cabaret Songs had an urgent rhythm, with Mr. Glen creating the sound of a railroad train in his piano.

The second half of the program was given over to the other prize winner--baritone Steven Eddy and collaborative pianist Dimitri Dover. The two seemed to enjoy a special partnership, opening with one of our favorite Brahms songs "Meine Liebe ist grün". Another Brahms song "Botschaft" was performed later and we would have preferred hearing them in the same set. They are both so melodic and romantic.

Instead, there were two songs by Clara Schumann interposed. The first, "O weh des Scheidens, das er tat" was a sad one and seemed unresolved at the end.  The second "Liebst du um Schönheit" was quite lovely but suffered a bit by comparison to the Richard Strauss setting with which all lied lovers are far more familiar. (We couldn't help thinking of the Löwe setting of Frauen Lieben und Leben which one rarely hears because of Schumann's arguably better setting.)

Mr. Eddy excelled in his interpretation of Barber's Mélodies passagères. We enjoyed Barber's music so much better in French and we think that Rilke's poetry inspired him to new heights. Mr. Eddy's French served the music well and the fact that he translated them himself likely increased his involvement.  Particularly suited to his voice was "Le clocher chante" and Mr. Dover's piano made sure we heard the carillon. We also liked "Départ" a great deal.

Mr. Eddy explained the Jake Heggie songs which followed.  They were written for baritone Nathan Gunn and were inspired by paintings in the Dallas Art Museum. We found the concept more interesting than the music. Mr. Eddy's English diction is better than most but we still missed a lot of the words and there was no text provided to read. Our English-speaking companion was of the same opinion.

Fortunately the remainder of Mr. Eddy's program was thrilling. We love Dvorák's Gypsy Songs and have mainly heard them in German. Mr. Eddy, to our delight, sang them in Czech. We do not understand the language but loved the way the melody and the rhythm of the words lined up It was a spirited song about a folk dance and we were ready to get up and dance!

Similarly, we loved Respighi's "Invito alla danza", a more sedate and romantic song and perhaps our favorite song by this early 20th c. composer. Following along with the dance theme was Camille Saint-Saëns' "Danse macabre" and that's one dance we'd like to pass up!

If all we had heard were the encore we would have considered it a successful evening. That's just how wonderful it was!  From a rare Donizetti opera entitled Il Campanello di Notte, we heard the Brindisi "Mesci, mesci". Mr. Glen joined Mr. Dover for a four-handed accompaniment while Ms. Szász and Mr. Eddy performed with gusto and glee. We considered ourselves well prepared for the champagne reception upstairs!

(c) meche kroop

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