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.

Monday, January 13, 2020


Lucy Arner and Hans Pieter Herman

Any time a singer undertakes to learn one of Schubert's magnificent song cycles, we are overjoyed. Although the current spell of Springlike weather deprived the performance of Winterreise of its seasonality, we approached the evening with a high level of anticipation. We are usually swept away in a torrent of emotionality. Although our current social climate involves plenty of "ghosting" and single people are far more likely to rush toward a new partner when disappointed in love, still, we all know people who are filled with despair over a breakup. The so-called "excesses" of German Romanticism are nowhere near gone from the emotional landscape.

Although last night's interpreter stated in the program notes that he was astonished that two 30-year-old men could have created a work so profound, we ourself are not surprised. Genius does not wait for middle age. As a matter of fact, we have heard students at Juilliard interpret the work in a fashion that drew us in, leaving us in a pool of tears.

Last night, we were not drawn in by the vocalism and found ourself instead listening acutely to the piano collaboration of Lucy Arner who limned every single reference to natural elements, employing every variations of color and dynamics at her disposal. Every time the harmonies shifted we felt a shift in our emotions. Changes from minor to major caused our heart to leap with hope; returns to the minor mode were wrenching.

The singer, the very renowned Dutch baritone Hans Pieter Herman, may have had his own feelings about the work but his interpretation did not touch our heart. Wilhelm Müller's passionate poetry and Franz Schubert's memorable melodies failed to blossom for us. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out why, since most of the audience seemed more than satisfied with the performance.

For one thing, Mr. Herman's voice could be considered rather too heavy to portray a young man; at times he sounded stentorian.  For another, although being self-absorbed can be thought of as consonant with the poet's mental state, staring up into the non-existent balcony left us feeling left out. We didn't feel a connection with the singer.

During the introductory "Gute Nacht", the singer was very still, but as the cycle progressed, he employed plenty of gestures, none of which felt organic or spontaneous. Perhaps Mr. Herman was alone with sorrows of his own but we couldn't feel along with him.

It is admirable that despite the hearing loss we read about in the program, Mr. Herman achieved perfect intonation. We wish the dynamics had been as well realized.  Certain words were hit hard and jumped out of line; sometimes the words chosen for emphasis seemed idiosyncratic. We missed the subtlety of gradual crescendo and decrescendo. We will say that the German was perfect. 

There were a few lovely moments, especially in the quieter lieder.  In "Irrlicht" there was a beautifully floated high note."Der Lindenbaum" is one of our favorites and we particularly enjoyed the piano prelude in which the piano echoed the phrase and Schubert's voicing produced an excellent imitation of a French horn.

Ms. Arner's playing was on point throughout. In "Rast" and in "Einsamkeit", we not only heard the poet's plodding steps but we felt them. The piano part captured the false cheer of the poet's delusional dream in "Frühlingstraum". In "Die Post", we felt the hoofbeats of the horse and heard the sound of the posthorn. In "Im Dorfe" the piano created the growling of the dogs.

The cycle ended on a haunting dirge in which Mr. Herman successfully lightened his voice. We will restrain ourself from trying to interpret "Der Leiermann" and be content with the mystery of it all.

© meche kroop

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