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, November 19, 2016


Ben Bliss and Lachlan Glen

What a perfect partnership!  Tenor Ben Bliss and collaborative pianist Lachlan Glen met each other at the Lindemann Program and the rest is history.  Last night at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall we experienced the final event in their tour but we wouldn't be at all surprised if the first night of the tour was as polished. The pair have an ease of working together and an equivalence of prodigious talent.

We have reviewed their recitals on prior occasions and are always overcome by their level of artistry and professionalism. Mr. Bliss addresses the audience with such ease that one feels as if you are a guest in his home hearing tidbits about the composer and the song. In everything he does, his musicianship stands out. Nothing gets short shrift and so-called "popular music" gets the same attention as cherished classics.

Mr. Glen is nothing if not colorful but musical values are never sacrificed at the altar of showmanship. His support for the singer is constant from moment to moment. Mr. Glen is also a consummate soloist, as evidenced by his recent recording (Embraceable You) which tackles standard piano chestnuts like Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Debussy's Clair de Lune; but just listen to his improvisations on Chopsticks!

There was some of this improvisation going on in the final set of the program when we heard Eden Ahbez' "Nature Boy" given such a depth of mystery that we were bowled over.  But we are getting ahead of ourself....

The program seemed to comprise a wide range of styles and each piece seemed to be one that the artists truly enjoyed performing. This was quite different from a recital given over to one composer, or a recital attempting to show off the singer's linguistic skills. This one was just things the artists love.

Fortunately, we loved them too. We can never hear enough Strauss and Mr. Bliss serenaded us with "Ständchen" bringing this tender tune to a passionate climax. Mr. Glen's rippling piano and peaceful postlude were perfect.

In "Barkarole", Mr. Glen really rocked the boat while Mr. Bliss gave us the sweetest "süsser" we have ever heard. His pianissimo was incredibly delicate with no loss of tone. The meditative "Morgen" observed a slow tempo and the final "stummer Schweigen" hung in the air for the lovely postlude.

We were introduced to a composer previously unknown to us and are grateful for the introduction.  Composer Nadia Boulanger had a younger sister named Lili who died tragically at the age of 24, leaving behind some gorgeous songs. At the tender age of 19 she won the Prix de Rome for her compositions, the first woman composer to have achieved this honor. 

We heard selections from Clairières dans le ciel, a fragrant setting of Francis Jammes' text.  Mr. Bliss' performance was marked by finely floated top notes as Mr. Glen's piano rippled underneath. The French seemed flawless.

This delicacy was succeeded by the robust "Marechiare" by Paolo Tosti, sung in Neapolitan dialect and given an expansive and powerful reading by the two artists. Talk about fragrant!  You could smell the garlic!

The recently deceased music critic John Gruen set some playful poetry by e.e.cummings to some equally playful music.  We enjoyed the whimsy of "Spring is like a perhaps hand" and "Lady will you come with me into". The works were unpublished and we hope that situation will change.  More people should hear these delightful ditties but we are not sure another duo could have brought them to such enchanting life.

Our favorite contemporary composer Lowell Liebermann set a text by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which was entitled "The Arrow and the Song", drawing an analogy between the two. The arrow is found long afterward in an oak tree, while the song lands in the heart of a friend. There was a grandness to this song and it did indeed reach our heart.

Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was given a lovely setting by Ned Rorem in which the music was quietly pensive as sound can be when muffled by snow.  Theodore Chanler's  "I Rise When You Enter" is a charmingly lighthearted paean to love which Mr. Bliss sang with personality to spare.

There was a set of Benjamin Britten songs as well; we like him best when he embraces humor and Mr. Bliss did complete justice to "The Children and Sir Nameless", an ironic depiction of a pompous lord who gets his comeuppance.  In the melancholy "The Last Rose of Summer", Mr. Glen brought out the troubled chords in the piano and Mr. Bliss made the most of the melismatic passages, as he did in "The Choirmaster's Burial". There was some gorgeously spun out tones in the decrescendo passages.

The final set comprised the aforementioned "Nature Boy" which is still circling our brain and haunting our soul, Harold Arlen's "One for My Baby" and Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So". We were inspired to listen to Nat King Cole's recording of the first, Frank Sinatra's rendition of the second, and Ray Charles' performance of the third. We decided that Mr. Bliss' "cover" surpassed the originals of the first two but maybe, just maybe, Mr. Charles had a slight edge on the third!

Two encores were offered. The first was "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore when Nemorina realizes that he has won Adina's love. The heartfelt aria is perfect for Mr. Bliss' warm and flexible tenor.  The second offering was "Maria" from Bernstein/Sondheim's West Side Story, another joyful celebration of first love.

So! Blissed out are we by this recital! A recording of favorite songs by Mr. Bliss and Mr. Lachlan is available on Mr. Bliss' website. If you missed this landmark recital you can still enjoy some incomparable vocal music by this versatile duo.

(c) meche kroop

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