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.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Renate Rohlfing and Samuel Hasselhorn at The Morgan Library

Every generation produces its own standout artists! It is clear to us, after hearing baritone Samuel Hasselhorn on two occasions, that he is the standout baritone of his generation. He won first prize in the Young Concert Artists Competition in 2015 (among a legion of other awards and prizes) and gave a groundbreaking recital at Merkin Hall last year which we reviewed. (http://www.vocedimeche.reviews/search?q=samuel+hasselhorn)

If anything, our excitement about his career has only grown, along with the growth of his artistry. Once again, we were impressed by the ease of his stage presence, the mature timbre of his voice, his crisp diction (even in English), his storytelling prowess, and his ability to color his voice with all the tones of the vocal palette.

The major work on this afternoon's program was Schumann's Dichterliebe. With collaborative pianist Renate Rohlfing matching his mood every step of the way, Mr. Hasselhorn led us through the many stages of recovery from a disappointing romance. Anyone with a minimal knowledge of German could easily follow the text with its multiple metaphors.

The feelings were so intense that it was difficult to believe that the dramatics were just dramatics. It seemed as if Mr. Hasselhorn were living through the many shades of grief in real time. We only hope he has never had such despair, nor ever will.

Heinrich Heine's text may seem excessive by today's standards but anyone who has lived through the loss of a love will understand that the loss of a fantasy of future happiness is excruciatingly painful.  Better to write or sing about it than to turn to alcohol and drugs!

The way Mr. Hasselhorn interpreted the song cycle is that the poet is reflecting upon the past--his initial joy and subsequent despair as he works through his loss-- until the final song of the cycle. He employed a sweet color for "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai"; the song doesn't exactly end but trails off in a whiff of nostalgia.

"Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'" shows the poet at his  most confused. Mr. Hasselhorn's coloration gave voice to the ambivalence.

"Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" begins with some seriously ponderous chords in the piano echoed by the voice, depicting the great cathedral of Köln. The poet sees the face of his lost love everywhere, even in a painting of the Virgin Mary.

In "Ich grolle nicht" Mr. Hasselhorn began with a stalwart surface and a position of denial but his interpretation allowed the anger over the woman's betrayal to burst forth in an explosion of rage.

Ms. Rolfhing had her chance to shine in the hurdy-gurdy piano part of "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" but changed to a pensive mood in "Hör ich das Liedchen klingen" as Mr. Hasselhorn indulged in some 19th c. German Romantic grief. Today we would call it a "pity party".

"Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen" begins with irony and ends, like the earlier "Ich grolle nicht" with an eruption of anger. The next song "Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen" is one of consolation and required an entirely different coloration. 

"Ich hab' im Traum geweinet" asks the singer to begin a capella; he is joined by rhythmic chords in the piano which punctuate his sad dreams like the beating of an aching heart. In this lied and the subsequent "Allnächtlich im Traume" he is working through the loss. Haven't we all had dreams in which a dream element that seemed important has vanished evanescently? Imagine the skill required for the singer to convey this puzzled quality!

He finds no escape into fantasy as shown in the longing "Aus alten Märchen winkt es" so the final resolution must be to bury the love and the angry songs in a hyperbolic coffin with a dozen giant pallbearers as described in "Die alten, bösen Lieder". The piano postlude achieves a kind of resolution with a nearly funereal peace.

The program also included some lighter material.  In a move worthy of Mirror Visions Ensemble, the same text, set by Schubert and Gerald Finzi, was performed.  Schubert's "An Silvia" was paired with Finzi's "Who is Sylvia" and we were surprised to learn that Shakespeare's words were as well set in English in the 20th c. as the German version was by Schubert in the 19th c. 

We generally don't care much for songs in English from the 20th c. but we were drawn to enjoy this music by Mr. Hasselhorn's and Ms. Rohlfing's fine performance of "O Mistress Mine". Possibly the elegant cadence of Shakespeare's text elicits good composition!

We were tickled by the singer's bird sounds in Hugo Wolf's "Lied des transferieten Zettel".  This is a setting of "Bottom's Song" from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, translated into German.

There was yet more Shakespeare to come. Erich Wolfgang Korngold set "Desdemona's Song" from Othello,  as well as "Under the Greenwood Tree",  "Blow, blow, Thou Winter Wind", and "When Birds Do Sing"-- all from As You Like It.

So, now we know. We like songs in English as long as Shakespeare contributed the text!

Still, returning to German for the encore left us smiling; it was the very sweet Schumann lied "Du bist wie eine Blume". Schumann must have been thinking of Clara when he wrote that gorgeous melody!

(c) meche kroop

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