|Nathaniel LaNasa and Xiaoming Tian at Elabash Recital Hall|
What does it take to hold an audience spellbound for a half hour? You could easily answer that question if you attended the recital yesterday of baritone Xiaoming Tian working in harmonious collaboration with pianist Nathaniel LaNasa. Not only were we held spellbound but we scarcely breathed. Mr. Tian, presently finishing up his Ph.D. and Doctorate of Music at The Graduate Center of City University of New York, took us on a journey involving the present moment colored by memories of lost love. There was a lot of catharsis going on!
It is important for a recitalist to choose good material, songs that he can inhabit or wear (like the stylish suit he chose). Perhaps it was just great acting, but it seemed as if Mr. Tian was living through the panoply of emotions contained in Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe, Op. 48. Composed in 1840, the cycle comprises a selection of text from Heinrich Heine's 1823 Lyrisches Intermezzo, reordered to suit the composer's vision.
So, the raw materials are all there, with Schumann's memorably melodic vocal lines, his intuitive connection with the text, and Heine's remarkable poetry. (If only we had such poetry today to inspire contemporary composers!) The piano writing expands upon the mood of the text, comments upon it, and occasionally expresses what the poet cannot say in words.
Given these ingredients, it takes a consummate artist to let the text and music speak/sing for themselves. Mr. Tian is such an artist. He is free of excess and does not bombard the audience with special effects. Rather, he creates a mood that draws the audience in.
We are never able to select our favorite song from among the sixteen but there is one that we always pay attention to because the singer can perform it any number of ways. That song is "Ich grolle nicht" in which the poet begins by denying his anger at the woman who abandoned him. By the end of the song his fury emerges. Many singers begin with irony but Mr. Tian began quietly and let the rage build up to a terrifying explosion. We were enthralled.
The slow tempo of "Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen" provided expansive room for an emotional introspection. Mr. LaNasa made sure we could hear the murmuring of the consoling flowers.
"Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen" was notable for Mr. Tian's storytelling gifts. In this case, he was more generous with his gestures to illustrate the confusing nature of the text.
Leaving aside Mr. Tian's interpretive gifts, we cannot end without commenting on the velvety tone of his instrument, the richness of the timbre, the musicality of his phrasing, and the accuracy of his German. Diphthongs were perfect and consonants were crisp.
We first heard this fine artist in 2014 at a Classic Lyric Arts Gala and have heard his magnificent Masters of Music recital at Manhattan School of Music, and another recital at The Graduate Center of City University of New York. He has never disappointed us. He is a young artist to watch!
We hope the artists will forgive us for departing after the Schumann. We were rather emotional and wanted to preserve the melancholy mood and to process our memories. That's just how powerful the experience was!
(c) meche kroop