|Nicole Cabell, Kate Aldrich, Greg Anderson, Elizabeth Joy Roe, Maestro Ted Sperling, Nicholas Phan and Nimon Ford
It is obvious that Maestro Ted Sperling adores what he does and so does his audience. It seems as if he loved putting together the program "Night Songs and Love Waltzes", judging by the enthusiasm with which he introduced each part of the program to the audience at Alice Tully Hall. We would also hazard a guess that the members of Master Voices adore him, such was the rapport he had with them.
What impressed us the most about this esteemed choral group is the clarity of their diction. Text is so important in art song and musical theater! We want to understand every word, and we did when the chorus was singing. We wish we could say the same about the soloists but we cannot.
Except for a few instances, words were carelessly enunciated and, if you didn't know the songs, you missed a lot of the meaning. This was particularly distressing in the medley of songs from Sondheim's 1972 masterpiece A Little Night Music, in which we wanted to understand every delightful turn of phrase. Apparently, American-born singers do not really work at this clarity. More's the pity!
The voices were excellent however. Nicole Cabell has a scintillating soprano; Kate Aldrich's mezzo instrument is colorful and well employed; Nicholas Phan's tenor is meltingly tender and especially lovely in Brahms' "Nicht wandle, mein Licht" from Brahms' Liebeslieder Walzer and in Schumann's "Mondnacht", although we were dismayed by his carelessness with the final consonants. Nimon Ford has a substantial baritone which he used well in Brahms' "Unbewegte laue Luft" which had an abrupt change from gentle to passionate.
Our favorite song among the Liebeslieder Walzer was "Am Donaustrande" when the singing abruptly changed color and dynamics in tandem with the text.
Maestro Sperling, in his introduction, pointed out how folks in the 19th c. would spend an evening gathered around the piano making music together; this sounds to us like a lot more fun than sitting some place with friends with each one on his/her cell phone!
There seemed to be something artificial about the four singers lined up behind those music stands; someday we would love to see this work performed in a less formal setting. Singers trying to act whilst turning pages and glancing down at the score is just not ideal for drawing the audience in.
The "Ständchen" we heard was not the Schubert serenade we always hear. The text by Franz Grillparzer was sung by Ms. Aldrich and echoed by the chorus--a truly lovely effect.
We loved Schumann's Jagdlieder, sung by the men's chorus and accompanied by four French horns played by Zohar Schondorf, Steven Sherts, Kyle Hoyt and Shelagh Abate. The most unusual was "Frühe" in which the vocal lines overlapped.
Sondheim composed A Little Night Music in 3/4 time and Maestro Sperling arranged a suite of the songs for our delight. Since the words were frequently incomprehensible, we found ourself focusing on the sound of the cello. (Peter Schon and Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf were also wonderful in Mendelssohn's "Verleih uns Frieden").
Clara Schumann's "Gondoliera" was composed as a birthday gift for Robert and served the purpose of making us want to hear more lieder from this somewhat overlooked composer.
Composer Ricky Ian Gordon was in the audience, visibly enjoying the performance of his cycle Life is Love, settings of text by Langston Hughes. Although this is not our kind of music, we did very much enjoy "New Moon" in which the four singers and horns shared overlapping lines with the chorus. We are not sure one could call this a fugue but it was very interesting and complex.
Pianists for the evening were Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe who make a compelling duo, sometimes playing on two pianos and sometimes sharing one piano bench. They performed their own wild arrangement of Brahms' Virtuoso Hungarian Dance #5 in F#minor and Astor Piazollo's "Libertango", which involved reaching "under the hood" of the piano and plucking strings.
It was a generous program and everyone walked out smiling. We are left with great admiration for the members of this chorus who must have been extremely well rehearsed.
(c) meche kroop