FROM CLASSICAL TO JAZZ...guest review by Ellen Godfrey
On Thursday, lyric spinto soprano Leah Crocetto made her Carnegie Hall Debut with a carefully chosen selection of classical art songs and cross-over jazz and blues songs. She performed in the intimate Weill Concert Hall, a perfect setting for her prodigious voice and her innate ability to communicate each song personally. It was obvious that all of this music is very close to her heart. Her pianist for this concert is one of today’s finest accompanists and soloists, Mark Markham. He is at home with classical music as well as jazz and other popular music.
Ms. Crocetto is fast becoming one of the great singers of her generation. She has a big beautiful voice supported by a great technique. She never pushes her voice and is capable of scaling it down when intimacy is required. Her diction in all four languages (French, Italian, Russian, and English), is very clear. In addition to concerts, she has already made her mark performing operas in opera houses around the world.
Ms. Crocetto walked on stage in a beautiful long green dress, and immediately engaged with the audience. The concert began with four songs composed by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. (1883-1945). When she started to sing, her powerful voice soon filled the hall, washing over the audience with her glorious sound. She is very much at home singing in Italian. "Nebbie" is one of Respighi’s most popular songs, and she sang it with great intensity. The most interesting song was "Mattinata". Pianist Mark Markham quietly introduced it on the piano with the sound of tolling church bells, setting the mood for the whole song. As Ms. Crocetto sang quietly, along with the bells, her singing became more joyous as she praised the Virgin Mary.
The second group of four songs was composed by 20th century composer Francis Poulenc. Poulenc engaged Louise de Vilmorin, to write the words for the song called “Violin.” She was familiar with Hungarian nightclubs and Ms. Crocetto ,along with Mr. Markham, performed the song in cabaret style to go with the words. "Les chemins de L’amour" is a waltz that evokes the long gone happiness of love. Ms. Crocetto sang the waltz tune with good phrasing and a soft gentle French style.
The third group of songs were by the Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, who lived around the same time as Respighi. Most of his songs were in the Russian romantic style.“How fair this spot” is a song about peace and tranquility sung in a quiet, dreamy way by Ms. Crocetto, ending in a gorgeous high note. “What happiness” is a fast paced song full of high notes stunningly sung by Ms. Crocetto, conveying the happy state of love.
Following these songs, there was a world premiere of a piece composed by the counter-tenor and composer Gregory Peebles. The title of the work, “Eternal Recurrence,” comes from a philosophical theory that the universe and all existence and energy has been recurring and will continue to recur an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. The piece is in 10 sections. The music is very melodic and starts with a piano introduction expressing the first musical theme. There are also some sung recitatives. Mr. Peebles states that travel is at the heart of “Eternal Recurrence.” Ms. Crocetto used her powerful voice and dramatic instincts to introduce this unusual and interesting piece to the audience.
The concert closed with selections from the Great American Songbook with songs composed for musical theatre by the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, and Sammy Fain. Ms. Crocetto put her own personal stamp on the songs and it was a revelation for those of us who never heard her in this repertoire. She was spellbinding, singing these songs with a softer, less operatic voice, conveying the sentiments in a very personal way. She really loves these songs and gives you the feeling that she is singing directly to you. Her voice carried throughout the theatre even though she had softened it. She also has the freedom of a jazz singer…taking some liberties with the timing of the music and singing them in her own way.
She sang “The Man I love” in a very dreamy way; “I’ll be seeing you” was very quiet, going from a low register to a high one, singing with a lot of feeling, and “The Man who got away” was very moving.
At the end of the program the whole audience stood up and gave Ms. Crocetto and Mark Markham standing ovations. There were two wonderful encores: Jerome Kern’s “Cant Help Lovin Dat Man of Mine” and Jimmy McHugh’s “I’m in the mood for love” and then more loud applause.
She has certainly now established herself as a wonderful concert singer of both classical opera and crossover jazz and the blues. We can all look forward to hearing her in her next concert, which I hope will be soon.
(c) meche kroop