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.

Saturday, April 27, 2019


Juan José Lázaro, Rosario Hernandez, Sonya Argiro, Anna Viemeister, and Valentin Peytchinov

We have heard Juan José Lázaro performing on the piano at Manhattan School of Music, most often with Maestro Thomas Muraco conducting the Opera Repertoire Ensemble. There was no way we were going to miss his Master of Music recital! Collaborative piano is an art form into and of itself. The collaborative pianist must not only be an exceptional technician and artist, but he must also learn the art of collaborating with other musicians.

Because of our passion for vocal music, most of our knowledge comes from listening to voice/piano collaborations. Not mentioning any names, but we have heard one who is very famous who drowns out his vocal partner. There are others who provide inadequate support. The best of this art form know when to "keep it down" and when to "let out all the stops". The art of coaching is yet another aspect of this art form. Many singers have their favorite coaches and prefer to take the stage with ones they know they can count on to make them sound their very best.

We consider Mr. Lázaro to be one of the top collaborative pianists of his generation. Yesterday he collaborated with four very different singers, each with his/her own repertory. Certain choices seemed designed to show off versatility.

The pianism could not be faulted. Mr. Lázaro's technique is flawless and he indulges in just enough expressiveness to credit the composer and the singer, without indulging in theatrics or grandstanding.

In the first set he accompanied soprano Sonya Argiro in some deeply felt Russian music that went right to the gut. "Lisa's aria" from Pique Dame was sung by Sonya Argiro with great intensity. Mr. Lázaro created the mood right from the start and emphasized the repetitive descending figures.

Two songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff provided an entirely different experience with gentle coloration in "How Fair this Spot" and, in "Do Not Sing to Me", sufficient emphasis of the "Oriental" mode to convey painful nostalgia.

As far as Ms. Argiro, she poured plenty of feeling into the song and delivered some gorgeous melismatic passages, but interrupted her connection with the audience by being on the book, as did all of the other singers, to our dismay.

Anna Viemeister used her pleasing mezzo-soprano with lots of variety of coloration, matched by Mr. Lázaro, in Barber's Hermit Songs. Their joint artistry moved us along the path toward liking this cycle. We particularly enjoyed the delicate colors of the brief "Church Bell at Night". Although it is not our favorite song, the duo conveyed the delusional quality of "St. Ita's Vision". We always like the irreverent "The Heavenly Banquet" and the sweetly personal "The Monk and His Cat", all given the appropriate colors.

Manuel de Falla's Canciones Populares Españolas is a favorite cycle of ours, with its varying moods, rhythms, and tempi. The fingerwork in "Seguidilla Murciana" is challenging but one would never know that because Mr. Lázaro dispatched the challenge with ease. We also liked the rubato in "Jota" and the anguish of "Polo".

Mezzo-soprano Rosario Hernandez performed the songs in perfect Castilian and the texture of her instrument was perfectly suited to them. She actually surmounted the presence of the music stand, although we hope to hear her perform this cycle again without the score.

We know bass Valentin Peytchinov primarily as an impresario and pedagogue, a nurturer of young talent. We came to opera too late to hear his onstage performances so it was a special treat to hear him yesterday in the Mussorgsky cycle Songs and Dances of Death. In these songs, Death is conceived as a female figure who comes gently to take a suffering infant, an ailing maiden, an elderly drunk, and soldiers in battle.

In spite of holding the score, Mr. Peytchinov astonished us with the depth of his interpretation and the resonance of his sound.

It was a valuable experience for us. Usually we focus on the singer but yesterday we got to focus on the piano and left with a better awareness of the art of collaboration.

(c) meche kroop

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