Recital Review

Very Merola Christmas Virtual Recital

Merola-christmas-2020 * Notes *
Merola, San Francisco Opera's training program, held a third virtual recital yesterday afternoon via Zoom with pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg, soprano Maria Valdes, mezzo-soprano Alice Chung, tenor Casey Candebat, and bass-baritone Christian Pursell. It was a lovely 50 minutes of wide-ranging music from these musicians that live all over the country.

Candebat and Chung began the performance with a warm rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" accompanied by Greenberg. They were video edited to be in the same scene by Pursell, who did this work for the whole recital in addition to his contribution as a bass-baritone. Greenberg did the introductions for the rest of the pieces, starting with Pursell singing "Sibilar gli angui d'Aletto" from Händel's Rinaldo, with a bit of Messiah interpolated in before the da capo. It was a bit startling to hear the English text pop up in the middle, but Pursell sang robustly. Valdes joined him for the beautiful duet from Die Zauberflöte "Bei Männern," after she sang "O Holy Night" as a solo. Her voice is very clean and has a precise delicacy.

Chung sang "Mon Coeur S’ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila. Her rich tones and the depths of her voice are evident even over Zoom. Candabat gave a vivid performance of "Ch'ella mi creda" from La fanciulla del West. The encores were Greenberg playing "La campanella" by Liszt and "Carol of the Bells." It was impressive how bell-like the piano and the voice can sound.

Tattling * 
There were a few small glitches in the sound every now and again. Candabat joked that we don't want the virtual recitals to be too good, or else no one will get back to the theater in person.

I cried during  the Mozart duet, I so miss going to the opera house. Seeing The Magic Flute at the Met last year seems so remote from now, when we can't even go to the drive in to see Tosca because of the huge spike in Covid cases and subsequent safer at home order.


Sanikidze/Barsotti Virtual Merola Recital

Sanikidze-2020 * Notes *
San Francisco Opera's training program Merola held another virtual recital yesterday afternoon via Zoom with vocal coaches and collaborative pianists Tamara Sanikidze (pictured left) and Edoardo Barsotti. It was lovely to see these artists usually behind the scenes highlighted.

Sanikidze opened the performance with Three Intermezzi for piano, Op. 117 by Johannes Brahms, playing with richness and lyricism. She was in Merola in 2009 but has done musical preparation for San Francisco Opera as recently as Manon Lescaut and Rusalka last year. It was nice to see both her Ring posters from 2011 and 2018 in the background of her studio in Austin, Texas. She dedicated her second offering, Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor, to Suzanne Turley, a devoted San Francisco Opera patron who recently died.

The second half of the program was three pre-recorded pieces from Edoardo Barsotti (Merola '14/'15), who is in Florence working at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Barsotti started with Jeux d'eau by Maurice Ravel, playing with a good deal of fire. His collaborative piano skills were on full display for Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto by Franz Liszt, he gets a lot of sound out of the instrument and a range of colors. I only know Morricone's music for Sergio Leone, so it was fun to hear Ennio Morricone's "Magic Waltz" from the film The Legend of 1900 as the last piece of the afternoon.

Tattling * 
I couldn't get Zoom to play through my entertainment room's speakers, though I could watch it on my television. There was a bit of static during Sanikidze's portion of the performance, but nothing too terrible. My daughter listened attentively to her as she sat on my lap, but wandered off during Ravel to go play outside.

I cried during the Chopin, not only was Sanikidze's playing very moving, it made me think of my mother, who loves this composer and plays his nocturnes. I haven't seen her in person since February. I also will miss seeing Suzanne around, I never spoke to her but always liked seeing her jaunty hair bows when she was in the audience.


Kentridge's Winterreise

Kentridge-winterreise-sf-2016* Notes *
SF Opera Lab began with visual artist William Kentridge's production of Winterreise last weekend. His beautiful meditations on Schubert's Lieder are deeply immersive and the incredible performers, baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser though very talented, seemed almost incidental to the work.

The effect Kentridge gets with mostly black and white projections on a surface layered with paper is compelling, so much so that it was hard for me to focus in on the music. The landscapes and figures dancing or walking across dictionary pages completely held my attention for the 80 minute performance, which seemed much shorter to me.

Goerne has an absolutely gorgeous voice, vital and strong, but I was glad I had heard him before, because in this it might have been lost on me. The sound in the Taube Atrium Theater seemed properly adjusted, some of the weird echoey effects noticed at Daniel Okulitch's Schwabacher were not in evidence.

Tattling *
The audience was quiet. We were asked to look at our programs before the performance began and the lights were kept off, so browsing the translations was not a true option.

The much-touted cup holders were not in use, as we were asked to not bring beverages into the hall for this performance.


NY Festival of Song Schwabacher 2014

Schwabacher-festival-song-2014* Notes * 
The artistic director of New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier, presided over a Schwabacher Debut Recital entitled In the Memory Palace yesterday evening. The program included diverse selections from song cycles and vocal quartets with an underlying theme of courtship. Blier accompanied four Adler Fellows on piano.

The structure of the evening was divided in fourths, starting with a quartet, then featuring each singer in turn. We began with Heitor Villa-Lobos, first "Canção da folha morta" followed by soprano Maria Valdes singing three songs from Floresta do Amazonas. All four singers have powerful voices, but they were able to blend their sounds nicely. Valdes has an airy lightness but has a tawny warmth as well. She showed her versatility in these cinematic songs. Next we traveled to Northern Europe with the ensemble singing a Danish text set by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, Jens Peter's poem "I seraillets have." Then mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde sang four Grieg songs with German texts. Her voice is incredibly rich and gorgeous, with a brilliant clarity.

After intermission we heard exclusively songs in English, starting with "Come live with me" by William Sterndale Bennett. Tenor AJ Gluekert did a fine job bringing his voice out for particular phrases, and then blending back in with the ensemble. Gluekert went on to sing four rather distinct songs by Frank Bridge, showing a range of emotions and styles. The fourth part of the program commenced with Sondheim's dizzying Two Fairy Tales. The singers were clearly listening to one another and working together. The last series of songs were by Gabriel Kahane, from the cycle The Memory Palace. Baritone Hadleigh Adams seemed at ease with both music and text. The last piece on the program was Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me," and it was slightly awkward, as Glueckert and Adams seemed perfectly comfortable singing this, but Valdes and Švēde simply sounded like opera singers. The encore, from Bernstein's Candide, was much more convincing. One would love to hear the Adlers sing the entire opera.

* Tattling * 
Blier was characteristically amusing despite the many electronic interruptions from the audience while he went through the pieces with us.


Wispelwey Plays Bach Cello Suites

Sfp-wispelwey* Notes * 
Pieter Wispelwey performed Bach's Complete Suites for Unaccompanied Cello last Saturday at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco. His playing is focused, rapid, and crisp. The phrasing and inflection of the notes was idiosyncratic, and one could never mistake Wispelwey's playing with someone else's. Though one would be hard pressed to call his sound beautiful, his interpretations were far from boring and the audience, especially for the afternoon performance of the first three suites, seemed captivated. Wispelwey played the Praeludium from Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007 as the encore for the evening performance.

* Tattling * 
Though two couples I sat in front of for the second performance in Row K Seats 14-20 were annoyingly loud during the music, I was glad to speak to the man next to me in Row J Seat 20, who absolutely loves the pieces and had recommendations for various recordings of them. He suggested the performers János Starker, Anner Bylsma, Mstislav Rostropovich, and Pablo Casals, at least, to start.


Philippe Sly's Salon at the Rex

Sly2* Notes *
Bass-baritone Philippe Sly (pictured left, photograph by Adam Scotti) gave a recital with guitarist John Charles Britton for the Salons at the Rex series Wednesday evening. The evening's music consisted of fifteen Schubert Lieder, including ones from Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise. Instead of providing the text in the program, Sly read translations of each before singing. The guitar arrangements were done by Britton himself, some worked better than others, since the instrument is so different from piano. The quietness of guitar is quite lovely in a salon setting. Sly's voice is youthfully exuberant, but he has control of his volume and is able to scale it down for a small room. "Du bist die Ruh" was particularly lovely. The encore was Chanson romanesque from Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, which Sly sang with much vim and perhaps sounded best with Britton's guitar.

* Tattling *
Nearly every seat was taken, and I felt quite lucky to have gotten a ticket for the performance. A mobile phone rang while Sly was reading one of the translations, but otherwise there were few disturbances to the music.


Isabelle Faust at Lucerne Festival

Faust-isabelle-felix-broede_01* Notes * 
Violinist Isabelle Faust (pictured left, photograph by Felix Broede) played Bach's Sonatas and Partitas BWV 1001–1006 at Hotel Schweizerhof yesterday evening as part of Lucerne Festival zu Ostern. Faust's playing is fluent, her technique secure. Her tempi tend to all be rather rapid, and her slower, quieter playing sounded anemic. The Presto of Sonata No. 1 in G minor was breathtakingly speedy, while the Andante of Sonata No. 2 in A minor was a bit tedious. In Faust's performance, it was also difficult to tell that the various movements were based on dance forms, despite the certain light airiness to her playing.

The Allemanda of Partita No. 2 in D minor was wonderfully verdurous, and the Ciaccona also came off well. I felt her Sonata No. 3 in C Major was weakest, though her playing was refined, and the Allegro assai showed off how quickly she can play. Faust managed to play Partita No. 3 in E Major in under twenty minutes. It did not feel rushed, just efficient and effortless. As a performer, Faust is not overly flashy and seemed quite comfortable.

* Tattling * 
Several beeps were heard at the beginning of the first piece. The person in Row 3 Seat 8 Right coughed a great deal during Sonata No. 2, but tried her best to muffle herself. She did not return after intermission. It was challenging to exit the hall, as there was only one method of egress. The entryway is narrow and right by the garderobe, so it took nearly 15 minutes to get out the door.


Eric Owens at Cal Performances

Eric-owens_01_credit_dario-acosta* Notes * 
Cal Performances presented baritone Eric Owens (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) in recital with pianist Warren Jones on Sunday. The first half of the performance consisted of German Lieder and the second half French chansons. Owens and Jones started with Wolf's Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo, which were performed with sensitivity. The four Schumann songs that followed were all rather dark, especially Muttertraum. The three Schubert songs that rounded out the German section of the program seemed sinister. The French section of afternoon had a more dream-like quality, particularly the three songs by Debussy. Ravel's Chanson a boire had particular appeal. Owens was able to establish an immediate rapport with the audience, and though he was not always precise in his intonation, his winning musicality more than made up for this.

* Tattling * 
The audience was fairly quiet. The encores were Purcell's "Music for a While" and Robert Lowry's "Hanson Place." For some reason, I found the former somewhat surreal to hear from Owens, perhaps because the last four times I have heard this piece live it has been performed by counter-tenor.


Matthias Goerne at SF Performances

SFP-MatthiasGoerne-02* Notes * 
San Francisco Performances presented baritone Matthias Goerne (pictured left, photograph by Marco Borggreve) in recital with pianist Leif Ove Andsnes on Monday. The performance focused on six Shostakovich songs from Suite on Verses of Michelangelo. These were interspersed selections from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Rückert Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder. Goerne's voice is unreal, velvety and perfectly legato. He sounds unlike anyone else. "Wenn dein Mütterlein" and "Urlicht" were particularly heart-wrenching. The Shostakovich was also sung beautifully, especially his "Death" near the end of the program. Andsnes played assertively, with an insistent breathlessness. The contrast between singer and pianist could not be more marked, giving the proceedings an interesting tension.

* Tattling * 
The audience seemed entranced, and the performance was so gripping it was difficult to even clap between sets. Besides a mobile phone that rang just before the singing started, there was no electronic noise.


Ute Lemper at SF Performances

SFP-UteLemper-03* Notes *
Last night Ute Lemper (pictured left), the Vogler Quartet, and Stefan Malzew made their San Francisco debut at Herbst Theatre. The performance commenced with the three of Schulhoff's Five Pieces for String Quartet (1924), played by the Vogler Quartet. Before Lemper took the stage, Malzew brought out his accordion and clarinet, and set up by the piano opposite the quartet.

The songs began with Piaf, first "Elle fréquentait la Rue Pigalle" and then "L'accordéoniste." In between she explained the narrative of the performance, not only of the individual songs, but of a journey from Paris to Berlin and then eastwards and southwards, around the world, only to end back in Europe. She introduced the other musicians and was sure to point out that Malzew had arranged all the songs. Two Weill pieces followed, "Surabaya Johnny" from Happy End and "Mack the Knife" ("Die Moritat von Mackie Messer") from The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper). These were sung with phrases in English and German, as were the Eisler songs that came next, these being "Der Graben," "Über den Selbstmord," and "Ballad vom Wasserrad." They went right into the Russian folksong "Tyomnaja Notch" ("Тeмная ночь") and ended the first half of the program with Alberstein's "Stiller Abend," sung in Yiddish. Lemper bends the vowels rather dramatically, so it is difficult to understand exactly what words she is singing. Nonetheless, she communicated the meaning of the text anyway, by her manner and movements.

After the intermission we heard the rest of the Schulhoff piece, then Alberstein's "Ikh stey unter a Bokserboym." There were issues with the amplification, and one of the speakers hummed noisily. This was rectified for the Piazolla songs "Yo Soy Maria," "Oblivion," and "La última grela." This was perhaps the weakest part of an otherwise intensely engaging evening. Thankfully, Brel's "Chanson de Jacky," "Ne me quitte pas," and "Amsterdam" were performed with verve. The encore was a startling improvisation of Weill's "Speak Low," which featured Lemper scat singing with each of the other musicians in turn. Lemper is completely fearless. Her voice has not a trace of prettines. It is a sound that is the epitome of "jolie laide," somehow both beautiful and ugly at once, or even beautiful because of its ugliness.

* Tattling *
The audience clapped for each of Schulhoff's pieces. Someone may have booed during the ovation before intermission, and there was noticeable attrition after the first half. Someone else was very excited to hear Ms. Lemper, screaming "Ute" perhaps a dozen times.


Karita Mattila at SF Performances

  Karita-Mattila-SFP * Notes * 
The third recital of the 2011-2012 vocal series at San Francisco Performances featured soprano Karita Mattila (pictured left, photograph by Lauri Eriksson) accompanied by pianist Martin Katz. Yesterday evening's performance started with Poulenc's Banalités, a set of five songs using texts by Apollinaire. The pieces did not readily relate to one another. Mattila sang them with a sense of humor, "Hôtel" and "Voyage à Paris" were particularly charming. Next we heard Debussy's Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire, which were a good deal more disturbing, especially the fourth one, "Recueillement." Mattila has a strong, beautifully supported voice and was complemented by Katz's tasteful playing. The singer exudes a serene confidence and was completely unruffled by the various small snags of the performance, which included sheet music forgotten backstage, untimely applause, and electronic noise.

After the intermission came Neljä laulua unesta (Four Dream Songs) from Sallinen. It was exciting to hear Mattila sing in her native language. The pieces were rather dark and strange. The program ended with five songs in German by Joseph Marx. Mattila coughed before "Waldseligkeit" and even after singing the first half, but one was never in doubt that her sound would still be perfectly gorgeous. Katz was able to show more bravura in these songs. The first encore was a highly idiosyncratic version of "I Could Have Danced All Night," complete with dancing. The second encore was a Finnish folk song, "Minun kultani kaunis on," arranged by Ralf Gothóni. Mattila ended the evening by singing the last verse of "Tonight" without accompaniment.

* Tattling * 
The audience was rather quiet, no talking was noted. Unfortunately, someone's mobile phone rang at the end of "Le jet d'eau," while Mattila sang the very last line.


Davitt Moroney play Bach's French Suites, BWV 812-817

French-suites-johann-schneider* Notes * 
Cal Performances presented a recital of Bach's French Suites played by Davitt Moroney yesterday afternoon. There were three harpsichords on stage: one from UC Berkeley's music department, one belonging to Davitt Moroney himself, and one lent by Peter and Cynthia Hibbert of Palo Alto. All three were made by John Phillips from 1995 to 2010, based on historical models. It was interesting to compare the three instruments, each so different. Moroney played Suites No. 1 and 5 on the third harpsichord, based on a instrument made by Johann Heinrich Gräbner from Dresden in 1722; Suites No. 2 and 4 on the first, modeled after Andreas Ruckers (Antwerp, 1646) but enlarged by François-Étienne Blanchet in 1756, and reworked by Pascal Taskin in 1780; and Suites No. 3 and 6 on his own instrument, based on a harpsichord by Nicolas Dumont from Paris in 1707.

The Gräbner harpsichord was cleanest, Moroney's playing came off as elegant and refined. His playing is restrained and not terribly expressive. Personally, I have an irrational affection for this Ruckers-Taskin, as it was likely the first harpsichord I ever heard in person. The instrument has more of a rich muddiness, not entirely appropriate for the French Suites, perhaps, but not unpleasant. The Dumont right in the middle of the stage had a sound that was more subtle than the Ruckers-Taskin but not as neat as the Gräbner.

Moroney spoke quite charmingly between the pieces. His favorite movement is the Allemande of Suite No. 4. Mine may have been the Sarabande of Suite No. 3. I enjoyed Moroney's dry playing, though I occasionally wished for just a bit more capering.

* Tattling * 
Many of the attendees read the score during the performance. There was only slight whispering and no electronic noise.


Nadine Sierra's Salon at the Rex

Nadine-sierra* Notes *
Soprano Nadine Sierra gave a recital with pianist Tamara Sanikidze for the Salons at the Rex series Wednesday evening. The two Adler Fellows created a genial atmosphere, speaking to the audience at length about the pieces and about how they first met at Music Academy of the West. The short program included "Je veux vivre," "Summertime," "A Sleeping Bee," "Vilja," Grieg's "Ein Traum," "Beautiful Dreamer," and "O mio babbino caro." Sierra's voice is pretty and doesn't betray a bit of strain. Sanikidze played gamely. The encore was "Les chemins de l'amour."

* Tattling *
It was pretty amusing to hear that Sierra assumed Sanikidze was a singer, not a pianist, because of her outgoing, lively personality.


Simon Keenlyside at SF Performances

  SFP-SimonKeenlyside-02* Notes * 
San Francisco Performances' 2011-2012 recital series continued with baritone Simon Keenlyside (pictured left, photograph by Ben Ealovega) accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau last night. There were programs this time, and all the texts were provided. As it happened, the recital was so gripping that it was quite difficult to even look at the words. Keenlyside's diction is crystal clear, whether singing in German, English, or French. Likewise, Martineau's playing is very clean without being dry or boring. The evening began with 7 songs from Mahler. "Frühlingsmorgen" was funny and "Liebst du um Schönheit" quite beautiful. Keenlyside sounds very comfortable, but his movements are rather idiosyncratic, and he does not quite what to do with his hands, it seems. The Mahler was followed by the first set of George Butterworth's songs based on poems from A Shropshire Lad. Keenlyside introduced the songs by asking us not to write them off as "English pastoral frippery," noting Housman's poems deal with mortality and became popular during the Second Boer War. The songs are rather dark, "Is my team ploughing?" is particularly distressing, and both singer and pianist pulled these songs off brilliantly.

After the intermission we heard 6 songs from Richard Strauss. The words were all enunciated perfectly, and "Befreit" was especially transparent and lovely. The program ended with songs of Duparc and Debussy, of these, perhaps "Phidylé" was most impressive. The 4 encores were Schubert's "Der Einsame," Ireland's "Sea Fever," Grainger's "Sprig of Thyme," and Schubert's "An Mein Klavier." All were sung and played with the vibrancy and freshness that characterized the entire performance.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and no electronic noise was apparent. At intermission a certain classical music critic pointed out that many of the panels that had lined Herbst's walls had been removed this season. I could only agree that the sound seems warmer and more focused.


Stephanie Blythe at SF Performances

SFP-Stephanie-Blythe * Notes * 
San Francisco Performances featured mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (pictured left, photograph by Kobie van Rensburg) in a charming recital last night. Somehow the programs for the performance went missing, and we were given photocopies of the most relevant pages. As it turned out, Blythe had not provided the texts in program, and she explained it was because she loved words and worked hard to be understood. She also joked about appreciated seeing people's faces as she sang, rather than the tops of their heads. Blythe and her accompanist Warren Jones read the 12 poems of Emily Dickinson that James Legg set to music, and later read the 3 James Joyce poems used in the Samuel Barber songs that followed. Though I enjoyed the directness of this approach, it seemed unnecessary, as they communicated the content through the music with great clarity. Blythe has excellent diction and a broad emotional range. She does have a great deal of volume at her disposal. Barber's "Sleep Now" was impressively stirring and painful.

The second half of the show was entitled "Songs from Tin Pan Alley" and included Jones playing a few rags by Joplin. Blythe was disarmingly funny, she and Jones hammed it up just enough, and it all seemed natural. Creamer and Layton's "After You've Gone" was especially amusing, as was Berlin's "I Love a Piano." Blythe sang Berlin's "What'll I Do?" with gravity, but without sounding operatic. I believe the encores were another Joplin rag (played by Jones), "How can I keep from singing?" (sung a cappella by Blythe), and "Beautiful Dreamer" (sung by Blythe and accompanied by Jones).

* Tattling * 
The audience was silent and attentive. More than one known Wagner fanatic was noted among the attendees.