Wm. Clay Thompson, Samuel Kidd, Raquel Gonzalez, Lucia Bradford, and Peter Dugan
We do believe it was Steven Blier himself who said that "No song is safe from New York Festival of Song". Aside from Mr. Blieer's pianistic gifts and engaging personality, one of the reasons that NYFOS has thrived for 36 years is the creative curating of songs and the astute organization of these songs to form satisfying evenings for his worshipful audience. The gloomy rainy autumnal evening could not keep us away.
Last night's theme was a seasonal one, with each season being given its due, each in a different language. We are not ashamed to admit that most of the program was new to us because Mr. Blier and his piano partner Peter Dugan spared no effort in their curating. One is never bored at a NYFOS concert!
Autumn was introduced by a two-piano four-hand performance (a format sustained for the entire evening) of Gabriel Fauré's "Berceuse" from the Dolly Suite, a work from the turn of the 20th c. The work makes use of the minor mode to express tenderness and melancholy. The remainder of the Autumn section was performed by bass Wm. Clay Thompson whose dark resonant instrument did justice to "Dans la forêt de septembre" with its imagery drawn from nature. There was a welcome contrast with "Moisson", a rhythmic and festive piece in which the high spirits were underscored by the piano.
Our favorite, however, was Felix Mendelsson's "Herbstlied", a duet sung with baritone Samuel Kidd forming a bridge to the Winter section in which Mr. Kidd would take over, singing in German. The harmonies were so affecting that we found ourself wishing that Mendelsson had written another verse. The vocal lines wove around each other reminding us a bit of Brahms. This was the most familiar work of the evening (for our ears anyway) but we had heretofore only heard it sung by two female voices. We are sure Mr. Blier chose that lied because it expresses his dismay over the end of summer. It served well to segue into the next season, sung in German.
We, however, are great fans of Winter and had the opportunity to hear Mr. Kidd perform a pair of songs by Richard Strauss that we had never heard, and which we prefered to the contemporaneous songs by Hugo Wolf. We found ourselves wishing the program had included something from Schubert's Die Winterreise.
Spring was given over to the Spanish language (and some Catalan dialect) for which soprano Raquel Gonazález seemed to have a particular affinity. It was a particular delight for us to hear her and witness the enormous personal growth achieved since her student days at Juilliard which we remember well.
The set began, however, with an instrumental work by Astor Piazzolla arranged for two pianos-four hands by Pablo Ziegler. It is a colorful work and one could almost hear the bandoneón in the piano. The rhythmic introduction had Mr. Dugan drumming on the wooden part of the piano. A lovely lyrical section yielded to a jazzy conclusion.
To Ms. González was given the charming romantic song "Larirà-Abril" in which a book of poetry brought to a forest tryst went unread. The Basque composer Juan Lamote de Grignon is rather unknown but, leave it to Mr. Blier to discover such treasures! Another song in the Catalan dialect, composed by Eduardo Toldra, was marvelously interpreted by the artist who allowed us to see, through her eyes and voice, the imagery of elements of nature.
The biggest surprise to us was "Remancillo" composed by Joaquin Rodrigo. We have long loved his Concierto de Aranjuez but never knew he composed song(s) as well. The text, by an anonymous poet refers to a man in a dark prison who listens for birdsong. We couldn't help speculating that the blind composer may have written the text himself. The minor mode in the piano and the guitar-like elements were very sad and very Iberian.
Th Spanish section was brought to a close with a sweetly nostalgic duet "Mares y arenas" by Rosendo Ruiz, for which our lovely soprano was joined by a similarly lovely mezzo-soprano by the name of Lucia Bradford. The emotional content came through clearly and we enjoyed the piano interlude as well.
Closing the evening was the Summer set, sung in English. We confess we are completely ignorant of popular music and the selections by James Taylor, Carole King, and Stevie Wonder were new to us. We were familiar with the names but not the music. We enjoyed the way in which Ms. Bradford could bend a note and move us into jazzy territory in fine style.
The one piece in this set that resonated the most with us was written by Stephen Sondheim (whose music IS familiar to us) and was written early in his career as incidental music for a play of the same name Girls of Summer. We always appreciate Sondheim's irony.
We were gifted an encore from another favorite composer--the quartet from Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore, a piece in madrigal form expressing the unique joys of each season. What a treat!
© meche kroop