Francesco Barfoed and Joseph Parrish
(photo by Daniel Rosenberg)
There are a few people whose artistic instincts we trust completely and Andrew Ousley of Unison Media is one of them. He has introduced us to some major talents and inspired us to travel to distant venues, like Greenwood Cemetery, for his Death of Classical series. However, last night, the artist he presented in the Crypt of the Church of the Intercession is well known to us, often reviewed by us, and greatly appreciated for his unique gifts.
In what fashion is Joseph Parrish gifted? Let us count the ways. On the most basic level, his bass-baritone is mellow and falls graciously on the ear. To continue, his technique is flawless with apt phrasing and superb control of dynamics. His messa di voce can have listeners holding their breath. His German is sung without the flaws which plague so many young singers.
Moreover, his presentation is such that one never notices a particular gesture or expression but rather feels his connection with the material on a far deeper level. We thought of a cello in which the subtle and invisible contributions of the wooden body add so much to the visible fingering and bowing. That is how Mr. Parrish uses his body, in a most organic fashion, amplifying the text and the subtext.
The atmosphere for his concert was unusual. The underground Crypt is lit only by candles, lots of candles. There are no titles or programs to distract audience members nor were cell phones permitted. All this served to focus attention on the performance. The audience was completely immersed in the music.
The program began and ended with Mr. Parrish accompanying himself on the piano, evidence that this is an artist who will do things his own way to achieve his own goals, a quality we admire and prize. Apparently, the theme for this recital was a demonstration of the similarity between German lieder and American spirituals, inasmuch as both deal with love, loss, pain, elation,and spirituality. There was a seamlessness to the recital which interspersed works by Liszt, Brahms, and Mahler (our favorite being "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen") with works by Burleigh, Hogan, and Johnson and spirituals that we have heard before but which, in this context, felt entirely new. "Deep River" was sung with art but no artifice.
Except for the opening and the enthusiastically "demanded" encores, piano accompaniment was finely rendered by Francesco Barfoed whose sensitive playing served to underscore the idea that there should be no artificial categories like "art song", "popular song", or "folk song". We first became aware of this concept at Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song; Mr. Blier also mixes things up, so to speak, finding similarities more important than differences.
We find Mr. Parrish to be a major talent and are delighted that so many institutions have picked up on it--Santa Fe Opera, the Gerda Lissner Foundation, and Young Concert Artists among them. It will be exciting to see where his gifts take him in the future. Having heard his Aleko on other occasions, we have a hunch that Russian opera will be one of his strong suits.
© meche kroop