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, April 17, 2016


Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau

Superb German soprano Christiane Karg made her New York recital debut last night at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall; she took the stage with perfect poise and carried the enthusiastic audience on a journey through Europe starting and ending with two settings of the story of the mysterious Mignon, a character in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Lehrjahre.

This tale has inspired numerous composers.  Our journey began with "Kennst du das Land", the familiar version by Hugo Wolf, and ended with the somewhat less familiar "Romance de Mignon" by Henri Duparc.

And what a journey that was!  Ms. Karg is a wonderful guide and storyteller. Although there is nothing unusual about her instrument, it is a pleasing one; what astonished us is the way she employs it to squeeze every drop of meaning from each word and phrase. She seems to be tasting every word!

Such intense involvement with the text is exactly what makes a fine lieder recital. It seems to invite the audience to share the singer's experience. And we felt that involvement from the very first phrase. The trick is to make the performance seem, no matter how rehearsed, to be created spontaneously at that moment.

What a pleasure to hear Wolf's intricate songs flowing forth so effortlessly from a native speaker of German. Although the opener was our hands-down favorite, we loved the selections she chose from the Italienisches Liederbuch. There was the sad song of leave-taking "Mir ward gesagt", the frustrated maiden's "Mein Liebster singt am Haus", the ironic "Ich liese mir sagen", and the humorous "Mein Liebster ist so klein" and "Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen".

No less pleasurable were the selections from Wolf's Spanisches Liederbuch. We particularly enjoyed the tender "In dem Schatten meiner Locken" in which the singer allows her lover to sleep, disdaining to wake him.

We do so love to be introduced to composers and songs that were unknown to us. Jesús Guridi composed his Seis canciónes castellanas in the early 20th c. and we hope we get to hear them again in the near future.  We do so love folk songs!  Our favorite, "Sereno!" had the most gorgeous melody and one would search far and wide to hear a more romantic song than "Como quieres que adivine".

The second half of the program was entirely in French, and sung with quite nice French diction. We were delighted to hear the familiar gem by Henri Duparc "L'invitation au voyage" sung with such sensuality.

Ms. Karg took no breaks for applause and launched right into Ravel's "Cinq mélodies populaires grecques"--a collection of charming folk songs that cover all the emotional bases. The romantic "Chanson de la mariée", the arrogant "Quel galant m'est comparable", the lively "Tout gai!"--all were performed with panache.

Malcolm Martineau's always wonderful piano partnership here became appropriately delicate.

There were two sets of songs that we'd never heard.  We know Reynaldo Hahn as the composer of very singable melodies that echo much earlier music. We'd never heard "Études latines" but did not care for the classical texts all that much.

There was also a trio of Charles Koechlin songs from his Op.56 and Op.84 which did not resonate with us as much as the rest of the program.

With a quartet of songs by Francis Poulenc we were back in more familiar territory; they were all settings of texts by Apollinaire and filled with irony, which Ms. Karg brought out splendidly.

The final song, the aforementioned "Romance de Mignon" sounded far more passionate than any Duparc songs we've ever heard.  The text for this one was written by Victor Wilder and it was quite lovely.

Ms. Karg and Mr. Martineau generously provided three encores which Ms. Karg fortunately announced clearly.  Might we add that her English is superb!

The first was Hahn's "A Chloris" which is the Hahn we know and love. The second was Barber's "Solitary Hotel", the setting of a text by James Joyce. And the final one, "Nana", a lullabye by Manuel de Falla, reminds us to mention the excellent Spanish with which Ms. Karg performed the Guridi songs.

Ms. Karg has some exciting opera appearances coming up. She is someone to watch, for sure!

(c) meche kroop

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