Sunday, March 1, 2015
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
|Hea Youn Chung and Angela Vallone|
At Juilliard's latest liederabend, with Natalia Katyukova's coaching, all 10 Juilliard artists performed exquisitely, which is not to say that we enjoyed all of them equally. It was the final set of songs by Joseph Marx, performed by the lovely soprano Angela Vallone in collaboration with pianist Hea Youn Chung, which captured our heart. Of all the composers on the program, Marx is the one most suited to our 19th c. ears and Ms. Vallone sang the songs most expressively.
Not only do we favor the Romantic period but we prefer songs about love and nature to those about war, depression, religion and conflict. Love is something to sing about! And Marx carried over the mood of the 19th c. right into the 20th. We particularly enjoyed "Nocturne" with its A-B-A form and lovely writing for piano.
Benjamin Britten set Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, also about love. These belong firmly to the 20th c. and are not nearly as melodic. They were passionately sung by the wonderful tenor Miles Mykkanen with William Kelley at the piano. Mr. Mykkanen has been extending himself in new directions, which we applaud. That being said, we most enjoy his particular artistry in songs of humor and irony.
Soprano Razskazoff joined forces with Valeriya Polunina to perform three selections from Olivier Messiaen's Poèmes pour Mi, written for his violinist wife in 1938. Ms. Razskazoff has a marvelously poised stage presence and a sizable voice just begging for the opera stage. Of the three selections, only "Le collier" expressed a sentiment to which we could relate. But Ms. R's voice was thrilling, especially in the extended melismatic passages.
Bass-baritone Tyler Zimmerman utilized his voice and body in a most expressive fashion in two songs by Alexander Zemlinsky--both expressing anti-war sentiments with irony and bitterness. Mr. Zimmerman did his own translations of both. He also sang a trio of songs by Shostakovich--of later origin and lesser melodic interest. Kathryn Felt was his fine collaborative pianist.
Tenor Alexander McKissick performed six Poulenc songs with Ava Nazar as pianist. Poulenc chose to set texts by Apollinaire who survived World War I. The poetry is surreal and said to reflect the visual arts--i.e. Cubism. Our personal favorite was "Mutation". Notably, Mr. McKissick did his own translations.
It was greatly appreciated that each singer introduced the set of songs to be sung and told a little about their origins.
© meche kroop
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Saturday, February 14, 2015
|Nathaniel Olson (photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall)|
In the first, Mr. Olson sang "Die Neugierige" from Franz Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin and he sang it with all the youthful wonder and tenderness that is demanded by Wilhelm Müller's text. We wanted to hear him sing the entire cycle.
The second encore was Aaron Copland's setting of an agrarian protest song from the post-Civil War period entitled "He's a dodger". This folk song was composed to discredit a presidential candidate who has been long forgotten. But the song remains and Mr. Olson introduced it with a wonderfully original and persuasive preamble that revealed the personality that was rather hidden during the rest of the program. The song pokes fun at the dishonesty of lawyers, politicians, salesmen, ministers and lovers--indeed, of everyone.
As far as the main body of the program, there was nothing to criticize except for the insecurity and inconsistency of the pronunciation of the final "g" and "ch" in German--a flaw commonly heard in American singers. Sometimes the sound is omitted and sometimes it comes out as "ick". This should be simple to correct.
And yet, there was nothing in the program that thrilled us. We wondered if Mr. Olson really loved the songs he sang. In the program notes, he told of loving German lieder and Swedish songs since childhood. So why then did his opening set of Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 24 strike us as bland? We adore Schumann and expected to be thrilled. We were not.
Again, nothing was bad, and Mr. Olson clearly showed a lot of connection with his able accompanist and mentor Kevin Murphy. Was it us? Our companion was likewise unmoved by these poems of love yearned for, love anticipated, and love lost. The lovely melody of "Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden" gave way to bitterness. We heard it but we weren't "feeling" it.
The early 20th c. Swedish composer Ture Rangström set texts by many different poets but seemed to have a penchant for the unhappy. The songs fell on our ears with no more pleasure than the Schumann. Although Mr. Olson himself did the translation, we did not feel the connection we wanted to feel.
It is a rare recital in which we prefer the American songs but we thought Mr. Olson did justice to the lovely "Beautiful Dreamer" by Stephen Foster. Many singers who have been associated with Marilyn Horne's program have paid tribute to her by including it in their programs and it is always lovely to hear.
Ned Rorem's "Early in the Morning", the setting of a text by Robert Silliman Hillyer, lent a note of charm and good feeling to the evening and Mr. Olson sang it beautifully with his pleasing baritone. For once, we could visualize the circumstance and feel the pleasure of the poet.
Similarly, Aaron Copland's setting of the traditional folk song "The Little Horses" continued the pleasant feeling. Mr. Olson and Mr. Murphy took the tempo very slowly allowing us to savor every word, and Mr. Olson exhibited a fine messa di voce.
We were unable to savor the set of Hanns Eisler songs from Ernste Gesänge which were filled with negativity, perhaps not the best choice of material. The piano writing is jumpy and dissonant and the vocal line verges on the bombastic.
Of the Four Songs, Op. 13 by Samuel Barber, we most enjoyed the lighthearted "The Secrets of the Old" by William Butler Yeats in which three women are relishing the certain privileges of advanced years--the memories and the gossip.
We are holding open our opinion of Mr. Olson, hoping that the next time he presents a recital, he will let loose and reveal his personality. Perhaps someone told him to take it seriously but we'd like to tell him to lighten up!
© meche kroop