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, December 12, 2017


Last night's Liederabend at The Juilliard School comprised an hour of Russian songs, curated and coached by Gina Levinson. It is hard to believe that our interest in Russian songs was late in arriving. We have become ardent fans recently; the more we hear of them the better we like them.  It didn't hurt to learn a few words in Russian so that the sound has become familiar to our ears.

The program was beyond wonderful and the artists who took part earned our attention, our affection, and our applause.  Speaking of applause, the members of the audience could not restrain themselves from applauding after each and every song.

What all the singers had in common was stage presence. Each one introduced him/herself with poise and told a little about the songs they would sing. This is a superb strategy to form a connection with the audience, one that is often omitted.

Tenor Joshua Blue and pianist Minjung Jung opened the program with a song by Mikhail Glinka who is considered the grandfather of Russian song. His work fits squarely into the style of the early 19th c. but is filled with Russian soul. Pushkin's text for "I remember that magical moment" conveys despair and the balm of a soothing memory.

Mr. Blue's sweet tenor falls pleasantly on the ear and his use of dynamic variety and vocal colors brought the song to vivid life. He seemed to caress each tone with ease, never pushing for volume or pitch.

He followed this with a pair of songs by Sergei Rachmaninov. "In the silence of the mysterious night" is very much a product of the turn of the 20th c. and also deals with memory.

From much later in Rachmaninov's career, we heard "Arion", the tale of a sailor who survived a storm by singing. The storm was beautifully reproduced by Ms. Jung on the piano, and Mr. Blue convinced us as a good story teller.

Next on the program was bass William Su with Katelan Terrell as his able piano partner.  Although the bass fach is a late blooming one, Mr. Su, whose graduation recital at Manhattan School of Music had impressed us greatly last Spring, seems to be developing at a rapid pace.

We heard four songs by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose Golden Cockerel we reviewed twice this year.  His works date from the second half of the 19th c. The first was about secret dreams and was quite lovely. The second one sets a beautiful stage for a rendezvous but ends with the poet being disappointed when the awaited one fails to appear.

The third song, "Lean thy cheek to mine" was both tender and passionate with text translated from Heinrich Heine. It was the fourth song that we loved the best. A lover singing to an unknown beloved is compared to a nightingale singing to an indifferent rose.  The melody to this song is distinctly Asiatic and haunting. The piano is given some gorgeous arpeggi and the conclusion is whistled! Boy, can William whistle!

We would not be left in a mournful mood however.  The conclusion of the set was Modest Mussorgsky's "Song of the flea". We imagine that this song-- about a king who adopted a troublesome flea that annoyed everyone at court--was a political parable. The humor was effectively conveyed by both Mr. Su and Ms. Terrell.

The concluding set was a cycle of songs by Dmitri Shostakovich, a 20th c. composer whose work has never thrilled us.  However, this cycle appealed to us quite a bit, especially as performed by soprano Meghan Kasanders, mezzo-soprano Myka Murphy, and tenor Chance Jonas-O'Toole. The rotating pianists were Candace Chien, Jinhee Park, and Richard Fu.

The cycle Jewish Folk Poetry, Op.79 comprises 11 songs, 10 of which were performed by the three singers in various combinations. Eight of the songs described all kinds of disappointments and sufferings with the final two describing happiness under Communism.  We speculated that this was written for political reasons.

We loved the sound of Ms. Kasanders and Ms. Murphy in the duets "Lament for a dead infant" and "A concerned mother and aunt".  In "Before a long separation", Ms. Kasanders is terribly troubled and Mr. Jonas-O'Toole tries to console her with joyful memories. By the end of the song their roles have reversed. The harmonies were exquisite and unusual with plentiful dissonance.

In "Winter" the three singers created the howling of the wind. On the whole, the cycle paints a grim picture of life on the shtetl--nothing like the joyous murals painted by Marc Chagall.

The hour flew by and we were left wanting more.  "Ochen harasho!" and a big "Spassiba" to the singers.

(c) meche kroop

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