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.

Friday, March 22, 2019


Richard Fu, Bronwyn Schuman, Shakèd Bar, and Dominik Belavy

For those readers who have not read our prior descriptions of the Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recitals, here's the short version. Voice teachers at Juilliard nominate students of uncommon promise who then go through a rigorous audition process in which a distinguished panel of judges make their selection. The chosen recitalists work with their respective collaborative pianists to design a program for a recital at Alice Tully Hall. This is a win-win situation in which the artists get to perform for the general public and the public gets to join the Juilliard family as recipients of a generally thrilling evening of vocal entertainment.

Last night at Alice Tully Hall we enjoyed what amounted to two recitals for the price of one. Wisely, the artists did not alternate. We had a full hour of Schubert performed by baritone Dominik Belavy accompanied by collaborative pianist Richard Fu, and a very different recital of Israeli songs performed by mezzo-soprano Shakèd Bar with Bronwyn Schuman as pianist.

Although we loved Schubert's lieder long before, it was Lachlan Glen's year-long perusal of over 600 Schubert songs that revealed the wide scope and variety of his prolific output. Not every song he wrote is of equal quality but it is strange that most recitalists turn to the same handful of lieder for their programs. Not Mr. Belavy! He selected several of Schubert's less frequently performed songs and we found them to be of great value.

We cannot claim to have never heard them owing to Mr. Glen's ambitious venture about seven years ago; but we can claim to have perhaps forgotten them and to have enjoyed them afresh last night. The remarkable aspects of Schubert's compositions are a singable vocal line and a piano part that reveals the poet's subtext. He always finds the bittersweet element--the other side of the emotional coin, so to speak. He was also astute in his choice of text so that his music might enhance the intent of the poet. If only contemporary composers could do the same, we might be more open to contemporary art song.

We have been writing about Mr. Belavy for over four years and we are thrilled to witness his achieving the promise we then noted. His comforting baritone is warm and round. What struck us was his quiet command of the stage. He is not given to grand theatrical gestures but seems to get inside the song and to draw the audience in by means of phrasing and judicious changes in dynamics. 

We are so glad that he chose Schubert for his recital since we have already heard him sing in opera and also in art songs by other composers. We would like to add that not only did we find his German diction perfekt, but it passed muster with our German born companion. If there were one quality we wish to hear more of it would be variety of coloration.

Schubert set Goethe's "An den Mond" twice and we wish we had heard the two iterations consecutively to gain a better appreciation of Schubert's compositional evolution. They are both characterized by Schubert's bittersweet approach to mood, mode, and harmony.

Our favorite lieder however related to the water. In "Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren"  (text by Mayrhofer) the lied is introduced by some rumbling in the piano, so effectively played by Mr. Fu. Both singer and pianist became forceful when addressing the confidence of a man facing a storm. 

"Des Fischers Liebesglück" (text by von Leitner) tells a charming story in which the fisherman's sweetheart joins him for a rapturous sail on the lake. So why is it written in a minor key? We don't know but the mood is sweet and gentle and the strophic verses lulled us into a blissful state. Mr. Belavy smoothly negotiated the repeated upward skips and Mr. Fu was particularly expressive.

The lively charm of courtship was revealed in "An die Laute" (text by Rochlitz), a simple folklike song which was followed by the anxiety ridden "Alinde" in which a man queries a succession of people passing by whether they have seen his sweetheart, who seems to be long delayed. We were happy to have not known the song because our anxiety built with each person too busy to help the poet look; consequently, we enjoyed the relief when the sweetheart finally appears at the end!

"Nachtstück" is a lied more familiar to us; it is a song about death but a peaceful welcomed death--given a peaceful performance by the two artists. "Der Winterabend" was also peaceful but there was a marked swelling of intensity before the final verse in which the poet waxes nostalgic over a lost love in his past.

Mr. Belavy and Mr. Fu ended their program with Schubert's final song, the familiar "Die Taubenpost" (text by Seidl) from Shwanengesang. This was performed by Mr. Belavy with plenty of personality which set us up for the final change of mood; the poet's faithful companion is longing. Schubert was no stranger to mixed feelings!

Before moving on to Ms. Bar's adventuresome programming, let us mention that Mr. Belavy is having his Master's of Music recital on April 4th at 4:00 and will be performing these Schubert songs again. We will not miss this and neither should you!

Ms. Bar honored her Israeli homeland by performing a program of songs in her native tongue and we confess to being amazed by how beautiful the language sounded in song. We have heard Hebrew spoken and could never have predicted that this harsh language could be so lyrical. Israeli song has a brief history, barely more than a century. 

The young composer Noa Haran was given a commission by Juilliard and was present in the audience for the world premiere of her work Be'ad Ha'eshnav, translated as Through the Lattice. The text by Hadas Gilad seemed to be fantasies based upon passages in the bible. "Edat Re'iya" seemed to be a story about Potiphar's wife seducing or being seduced by Joseph. "Yevava" seemed to be the lament of a mother when her son fails to return from battle.

Ms. Bar is a compelling performer, as is her collaborative pianist Bronwyn Schuman. The audience could not hold their applause and erupted with enthusiasm after every single number. In contrast to our long standing appreciation of Mr. Belavy's artistry, Ms. Bar has only recently appeared on our radar screen as a compelling interpreter of the role of Dido in a recent highly original production of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas at Juilliard (review archived). Now that we have seen another side of her artistry we are further impressed.

We loved her opening song "Khalamti et Shirat Hazamir" by Moshe Rapaport. If we never learn another word in Hebrew besides shalom, we will never forget that shirat hazamir means "nightingale's song". Not only did Ms. Schuman's piano create the song of the nightingale but Ms. Bar let loose with a volley of coloratura fireworks in the melismatic passages that exceeded that of any avian species! We do love sensual music!

A very different image was evoked in "Orkha bamidbar" as a caravan of camels wended their way through the desert. Ms. Schuman's piano clearly limned the oriental mode of the melody as well as the plodding of the camels. Later, her piano brought out the lyrical theme in "Shai" by Levi Sha'ar and was forceful in "Echezu Lanu Shualim" by Tzvi Avni.

The lengthy "Vidui" by Alexander Argov evoked feelings of anguish. Although we didn't always grasp the text, the feeling in the music came across. We appreciate the mashup of popular song, folk song, and art song; perhaps we may consider them one and the same. A good song is a good song, no matter its genre.

There were settings of texts from the Old Testament as well. Ms. Bar offered a lovely a capella start to Nira Chen's "Dodi Li" and the piano churned through Paul Ben-Haim's "Gan Na'ul". Aharon Harlap set Psalm 112 and 98. It was a thorough introduction to Israeli music.

(c) meche kroop

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