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.

Sunday, April 8, 2018


Peter Dugan and John Brancy

Hearing baritone John Brancy Thursday night in recital with pianist Peter Dugan got us wondering about how long we have been witnessing his artistic growth. The earliest review we could find was 2011, just about the time we began writing about young singers. He was one of the Juilliard students participating in Lachlan Glen's year long perusal of Schubert's 600+ songs.

But we are sure we were impressed with his singing even before that date! We have heard him win converts to the art of the song several times with New York Festival of Song, with Marilyn Horne's program "The Song Continues", at the Brooklyn Art Song Society, at the National Opera Center, as an Opera Index Competition awardee, in recital at Carnegie Hall, and as Apollon in the Gotham Chamber Opera's production of Charpentier's 1686 work, La descente d'Orphée aux enfers.  

Coming back to his Juilliard roots, Mr. Brancy and his superb collaborator Peter Dugan (also a graduate of Juilliard) presented an interesting program entitled "Armistice: The Journey Home" in the 20th annual Alice Tully Vocal Arts Recital. The two artists met whilst at Juilliard and seem to have a knack for programming. They have their very own approach to art song, encompassing classic works that we love from the 19th c. to modern popular music and original arrangements of American song.

The standing ovation at the end of the recital plus the large crowd lining up to buy their debut CD ("Silent Night") attest to the success of their approach. Many of the works on the program were by composers who lived through The Great War.

The program opened with Mr. Dugan's fleet fingers flying through Gustav Holst's "Jupiter: The Bringer of Jollity". We enjoyed the popular song of that epoch by Oley Speaks--"When the Boys Come Home" .  Mr. Dugan's brother, composer Leonardo Dugan, contributed "I Have a Rendezvous with Death", a dramatic setting of some depressing text involving a searching theme in the piano.

It was moving to hear the first verse of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" sung by Mr. Brancy a capella, with Mr. Dugan's piano joining in, tentatively at first, including an extra verse which we had never heard.

We are not sure how the three songs of Franz Schubert fit into the theme but we were very happy to hear them, especially "Der Wanderer" and "Du bist die Ruh". For some reason, they alternated with songs by Rudi Stephan who composed a century later.  We found Stephan's songs to be grim and depressing, but then, war is grim and depressing.

Three glorious songs from Sergei Rachmaninoff restored our mood, especially the seasonal delight "Spring Waters" which seemed just right for the tail end of Winter and the coming of Spring.

Irving Berlin's "Goodbye France" was a swell reminder of how happy people must have been to greet their loved ones returning from the war.  We could use some of that patriotism in the 21st c.! A pair of songs by Ivor Novello followed, not making much of an impression on us, and the program closed with another Vaughan Williams song; frankly, we had heard enough from Williams in the first half of the program, having heard songs #1-8 already!

The encore brought back our optimism with "When You Walk Through a Storm" the inspirational song from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel.

(c) meche kroop

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