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.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

VIVE LES ARTS--in all their Gallic glory.

George Hemcher, Stéphane Sénéchal, and Robert Osborne

Last night we had the privilege of attending a private recital at the magnificently art-filled home of painter Lewis Bryden and his lovely wife Betsy.  Mr. Bryden paints exactly the kind of painting that we want in our home--portraits and representational works of haunting loveliness.

It was the perfect setting for a recital by French tenor Stéphane Sénéchal, whom we heard for the first time, and bass-baritone Robert Osborne, whom we enjoyed so much at the Hispanic Society singing Don Quichotte.

The program, entirely in French, seemed designed to highlight the unique talents of each artist and also to show a contrast between the delicacy of Mr. Sénéchal's lyric tenor and the robustness of Mr. Osborne's sturdy bass-baritone. 

The former has quite a career in his native France and has garnered multiple awards both there and here. His ease with his homeland's mélodies is legendary and he has achieved quite a reputation as an ambassador of the French repertoire. He is also affiliated with Classic Lyric Arts as Artistic Director of L'Art du Chant Français which has contributed so much to French performance instruction.

He opened the program with three selections by Francis Poulenc; our favorite was the lively "Vous n'écrivez plus", setting of a text by Max Jacob.  Later on the program he performed songs from an earlier period, all masterpieces.  In Gabriel Fauré's "Ici-bas", he used his fine phrasing to good effect, employing an exquisite caressing tone.

In Henri Duparc's "Soupir", he used delicate vocal brush strokes to paint a picture of longing. Charles Gounod's "Viens les gazons sont verts" was sung with all the enthusiasm the text required, accompanied by George Hemcher's rippling piano. Déodat de Séverac's "Les hiboux" was given a haunting interpretation by both tenor and pianist.

His final solo selection was Nadir's lilting aria "Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's "Les pêcheurs de perles".  We loved the floated top notes and the lulling rhythm which seemed borrowed from a barcarolle.

Mr. Osborne is well known on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for his powerful and versatile singing. His recordings are legendary. He performed two melodic songs by Oscar Straus, a composer of whom we wish to hear more. Mr. Osborne used his larger-than-life personality and ample dramatic gestures to convey the feelings of a hopelessly smitten lover in "Je t'aime". His dynamic variety kept the waltz neatly in romantic territory without pushing it into sappiness.

Mr. Straus' music is replete with melody. The text scans and rhymes, making it the kind of music you walk out humming. The two artists joined forces for "Oui, c'est une valse de Vienne" in which a young man celebrates his carefree youth.

Franz Waxman was a Berliner who fled the Nazis and wrote some marvelous unpublished songs while in Paris; he continued on to the USA where he wrote scores for Hollywood films. What joy to have Mr. Osborne bring to our attention these wonderful songs from Waxman's Paris period !

Mr. Osborne captured the varying moods of the songs with spontaneity and ease. "Sans un mot" had a tender romantic feel and was written in waltz time. "Tout seul" was bluesy and bitter. "La crise est finie" seemed ironic with its martial rhythm. We enjoyed these songs so much and are happy to report that Mr. Osborne has recorded them! And that's a first!!!

The two singers joined forces for "Duetto de la Chartreuse verte", a parodic drinking song from Emmanuel Chabrier's L'Etoile,  in which Mr. Osborne got to show off his formidable lower register. Every drop of humor was captured.

In a display of versatility, he switched gears for "Et toi, Palerme" from Giuseppe Verdi's Les vêpres siciliennes. It is special indeed to hear a bass-baritone achieve such flexibility in the ornamentation.

What program with two male voices could end with anything but "Au fond du temple saint" from the aforementioned Les pêcheurs de perles.  It was the perfect ending for a recital that lasted but an hour but was nonetheless completely fulfilling.  

There was none of the effeteness that can sometimes creep into an evening of French song. The variety of style and attention to dynamics kept it compelling from start to finish. A better accompanist than George Hemcher could not be found; he consistently matched the varying moods and dynamics of the singers.

The evening concluded with a reception and a tour of Mr. Bryden's studio where we admired paintings and sculptures both. Vocal arts and plastic arts in one evening! Only in New York!

(c) meche kroop

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