|Peter Dugan and John Brancy|
"If the recital were repeated today we would be there. They left us satisfied but somehow wanting more." This is a quote from a review we wrote exactly three months ago (archived on this website) entitled "Painting the Picture and Telling the Tale". Well, we had to wait three months but last night's recital at The National Opera Center fulfilled our desire.
Three months ago it was John Brancy and Peter Dugan at Carnegie Hall and last night's recital was at the National Opera Center, as part of Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series. This brilliant artist appeared as winner of the 2015 Jensen Foundation Vocal Competition. The Jensen Foundation established their first competition in 2000 with 91 competitors. My, how they've grown! In 2015, 270 singers competed for 125 audition slots. We have nothing but admiration for any and all institutions that give aid and attention to young artists.
Mr. Brancy has won many other competitions and has been singing around the world; the performance we would have most wanted to see was his Dr. Malatesta at Glyndebourne. Let's just say that his dance card is filled.
Can it be just three years since we reviewed his graduation recital at Juilliard? Mr. Dugan, a fellow Juilliard graduate, has been his regular collaborative pianist and the two artists match each other breath for breath, mood for mood.
We consider it a privilege to witness the growth of a young artist. We have a special affection for Mr. Brancy, having recognized his potential from the start. His years at Juilliard refined and developed his innate artistry that, we believe, emerges from a very special inner worth.
The effect on the listener is one of joining something larger--a sphere shared by the composer, the poet or librettist, the singer, and the piano--a communal experience. This artistry goes way beyond technique.
Of course, the possession of a fine instrument is a starting point and we have heard this instrument become darker and more polished over the years, like oil paint on the canvas of an old master.
So...getting to last night's program, a recapitulation of many songs from the Carnegie Hall recital was a welcome choice. Our only tiny cavil from that recital was the need for a lighter color for the voice of the child in Schubert's "Erlkönig" and for the voice of Die Lorelei in Schumann's "Waldesgespräch". Last night's "voices" were much improved.
As a matter of fact, we love it when Mr. Brancy interposes a lighter tender timbre where appropriate. For example: in the middle of Schumann's lively enthusiastic "Aus alten Märchen"; when he sang about the weeping bride at the end of "Auf einer Burg"; the knight's serenade in "Des Fräuleins Liebeslauschen"; and Fauré's "Dan la Nymphée", which had an ethereal quality.
The consummate storytelling skills, which we thought were perfect 3 months ago, are even better now. Many of the tales just gripped us by the throat. There was a lot of horror in Schumann's "Balsatzar", Schubert's "Der Zwerg", and of course in the aforementioned "Erlkönig".
We also heard songs by Sibelius in both Finnish and in Swedish, as well as Frank Bridge's "Love Went A-Riding" and the marvelously funny and marvelously performed song "The Green-Eyed Dragon" by Wolseley Charles in which Mr. Brancy perfectly voiced and enacted the greedy dragon and also his spooky ghost.
A highlight of the evening was Mr. Dugan's wild arrangement of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King", reprised from the February recital. His fingers flew over the keys but the melody never got lost.
There was no chance that the audience would let the pair off the stage without an encore--(a "Swann song" if you will pardon the pun)--"Bilbo's Last Song" with music by Donald Swann and lyrics by J.R.R. Tolkien. A suitable choice for an evening of fantasy ranging from macabre to ethereal!
(c) meche kroop