Recital Review

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.


An Evening of English Music at St. John's

28032011 036 * Notes *
Clarinetist Brenden Guy organized an evening of English music at St. John's Church in San Francisco yesterday. The performance started with some rather cute, pastoral music from Gerald Finzi and Arnold Cooke. Guy and Yeo Jin Seol played Finzi's Five Bagetelles for clarinet and piano. Arnold Cooke's Three Songs of Innocence were sung by soprano Indre Viskontas, accompanied by clarinet (Guy) and Ian Scarfe (piano). Viskontas' diction was clear and her voice was piercing. Before intermission we heard Valinor Winds play Holst's Wind Quintet Opus 14 in A-flat major. The group seemed to enjoy playing together, which is always nice to hear.

The last two pieces on the program were less adorable but more gratifying. Guy and Keisuke Nakagoshi played Herbert Howells' Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. The first movement was smooth and without harshness, the second movement was second half more vivid. Guy conducted 10 musicians in Britten's first piece, the Sinfonietta for Chamber Orchestra (1932). There was some beautiful playing, and I particularly liked the third movement Tarantelle: Presto vivace.

* Tattling *
The audience was quiet. As I was surrounded by friends, including Axel Feldheim and SF Mike, this is perhaps not surprising. There were only some discernible sounds from the street outside. As a venue, the acoustics of St. John's are fine for chamber music, but the lighting certainly was not focused on the performers.


Anthony Dean Griffey at SF Performances

AnthonyDeanGriffey * Notes * 
San Francisco Performances presented tenor Anthony Dean Griffey (pictured left, photo by Harry Heleotis) in a recital of songs in English last Wednesday. The evening began with fiddler Paul Brown playing Fisher's Hornpipe. Brown started out of view, playing Griffey and himself onto the stage, where there were two chairs, three banjos, and another violin waiting for them. Griffey sang this set of four traditional songs whilst seated, each one accompanied by Brown on either fiddle or banjo. It all sounded very natural and easy. The second set, pieces from Old American Songs by Copland (and indeed the rest of the performance) was accompanied by pianist Warren Jones. Jones played Griffes' Barcarolle, Op. 6, No. 1 before the third set, Barber's "Sleep Now" and "I hear an Army." This was all quite lovely, and Jones gave a good explanation of the Griffes piece.

Composer Kenneth Frazelle introduced his work, Songs in the Rear View Mirror, which comprised the second half of the evening. A few photographs of William Christenberry were projected on an upstage screen. The pieces were played and sung well, though some of the text was awkward. The fourth piece, about the vine kudzu (Pueraria lobata), was particularly fun. Griffey always enunciated clearly, and could be understood without the aid of supertitles or program notes. The encore was "This Little Light O' Mine," arranged by John W. Work.

* Tattling * 
The lights came up after the second set, so some audience members might have unintentionally started the intermission early.


Daveda Karanas' Schwabacher Debut Recital

MathildeWesendonck-1850 * Notes * 
Mezzo-soprano Daveda Karanas gave her Schwabacher Debut Recital, accompanied by pianist Allen Periello, yesterday evening. The program was designed around Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, which ended the performance. To begin we heard songs from Liszt, all on themes related to the source texts of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Likewise, Peter Heise's Gurdruns Sorg is a Danish translation from The Poetic Edda. Karanas has a high, powerful voice with fine technique and lucid diction. There is a pleasantly metallic quality to her singing that never comes off as harsh. She is, however, not a natural actor, and there seemed to be a disconnect between the meaning of the words and how they came through her body. In contrast, Periello was expressive, but kept a subtle balance between piano and singer. "Wanderers Nachtlied" was especially stately, and Wagner's "Träume" was cloud-like and floating. Karanas seemed to light up from inside for the encore, "Lorelei" from Gershwin's Pardon my English.

* Tattling * 
I was recognized as the Opera Tattler for the second time in as many days.


Jonas Kaufmann at Cal Performances

Kaufmann On the evening of Sunday, March 13, LCU and UO attended the highly anticipated song recital of internationally acclaimed tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. Co-presented by Cal Performances and the San Francisco Opera, the performance took place at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. What follows is a discussion of the performance between LCU and UO.

LCU: Kaufmann is typically very expressive in his operatic roles and I was surprised that he employed minimal facial expressions and hand or body gestures with this program. It was pure, honest singing; not mawkish or overly theatrical, which is often the danger when opera singers attempt the German Lied - they can't seem to leave the drama at the door. But Kaufmann sang with disciplined restraint, relying solely on the nuances of his voice to articulate the emotions and meaning of the songs. His delivery was lean and exact, with that touch of German austerity. Now UO, I understand that last summer you sang with Kaufmann in the Bayreuth production of Lohengrin. How does his style and vocal technique on the opera stage compare with what we saw tonight?

UO: Well, I think it all boils down to one thing: Kaufmann knows how to act with his voice. He trusts the material he sings and knows that if he delivers it in a straightforward way, masterpieces such as Dichterliebe will speak for themselves. In this day of live HD transmission and emphasis on extreme naturalism and cinematic facial expression, I think singers feel compelled to exaggerate their facial gestures and body movements. Even when he sang Lohengrin, Kaufmann generally did what was required of him by the director, in terms of gestures and movement around the stage, no more, no less. Certainly he didn't change his technique. That's what makes him so unique. For instance, he sang Lohengrin's Grail Narrative in Bayreuth with all the nuance that he brought to tonight's lieder recital. He isn't afraid employ the entire dynamic spectrum of his voice, from ultra-soft to ringing, metallic forte. He's one of the few singers out there today who has the ability to sing through an entire spectrum of loud and soft, in a way that reads in large halls. And it all carried beautifully, in part, of course, due to the wonderful Bayreuth acoustic. It worked well tonight, in a hall that isn't acoustically as generous.

LCU: As a singer and voice teacher, could you explain the technical challenges of Schumann's Dichterliebe for the tenor voice despite the fact that Jonas made it look so effortless? He sings with the ease of Fritz Wunderlich!

UO: Two of the highest vocal hurdles of Dichterliebe occur in the very first song. The "strong, weak" stresses of the words "aufgegangen" and "verlangen" are situated right in the tenor's so-called "passaggio," right where the voice has to negotiate a register shift that is quite challenging. Then just look at the word, for instance, "verlangen." The pitch change from G to F# -moves through two liquid consonants ("l" and "ng"), so a seamless vowel connection in this tricky part of the voice is quite difficult. Also, most of the songs are set quite low. This is partly in order to accommodate a high note in "Ich Grolle Nicht" that is not so stratospheric that it becomes an quasi-operatic acrobatic feat, with everyone on the edge of their seats waiting for the poor guy to crack! Of course, I think we would both agree that Kaufmann could have managed this with no effort at all, but the tonalities of all the songs have to have a coherent relationship to one another, and not be transposed all over the place. So the cycle is quite "range-ey." You also have potential pitfalls in intonation, particularly in the song "Am Leuchtenden Sommermorgen," where there are a lots of really radical modulations. Coming to Wunderlich: he had a very different, very sweet and less baritonal quality to his sound when you compare him to Kaufmann. You really never think of technique when you hear Wunderlich, it's all like child's play to him. Kaufmann came close to this ease of delivery last night, I think.

LCU: In one of his interviews, Kaufmann said that there is a huge difference between singing and speaking the German language. Kaufmann's diction is deliberately round because he chooses not to 'spit' his consonants, allowing for a smoother legato line. You mentioned that he has been criticized for doing this and for sounding too Italianate as Lohengrin (even though Wagner himself considered it his most Italian opera). However, does the German Lied call for a distinct German sound with all of its idiosyncrasies intact?  At Bryn Terfel's recital just a few months ago, I noticed that he was very emphatic with his consonants and even though he's Welsh, Terfel sounded more German to me than Kaufmann. Does the mellowing out of the harsh and choppy qualities compromise the rugged beauty, character, and integrity of the German language?

UO: I think we'd agree that in Lieder, especially, text and music have to be co-equal. You can't have one at the expense of the other. But there are choices to be made; do you maniacally over-pronounce at the expense of vocal quality?  Believe me, a lot of German coaches want just that!  Zellerbach Hall seems to me to be one of those places that swallows consonants, so perhaps that accounted for a certain loss of clarity. It's a big question, especially in opera: when do you modify text and vowels in order to allow the voice to be free?   Kaufmann seems to me to be one of those singers whose credo is "prima la musica, e poi la parola", in other words, music first, then text, to put it a bit simplistically. My impression in Bayreuth was that those who didn't care for his approach to Lohengrin felt that it was too human, not "knightly" enough. It wasn't so much about lack of clear diction or a matter of style, as I recall. But believe me, the supporters of his Lohengrin there far outweighed his detractors in number!

LCU: I have to tattle on myself - I shamelessly hooted and hollered and cheered like I was at a Michael Jackson concert. At one point George Hume, who sat across the aisle from me, even flashed me a dirty look. I was having a religious experience and just couldn't help myself. What do you think of the Berkeley audience?  How do they compare with the audience at the Met and Carnegie?

UO: I guess you didn't see me sinking lower and lower into my seat! What's wrong with enthusiasm?  I believe European artists in general are gratified by our American, somewhat over the top applause. I thought the Berkeley audience was just terrific -- absolutely silent during the singing. I saw a woman following along with a vocal score, and most people didn't turn the pages of their programs in the middle of a song, causing a rush of brittle sound to interrupt the music. Many times I have the feeling that, at the Met and other big venues in New York, and particularly on Broadway, people leap to their feet in a robotic, automatic standing ovation. Maybe that's just to convince themselves that the evening was great, because the ticket prices are so high! I enjoyed the respectful, informed Berkeley audience – very European – informed, respectful and quiet.


Nicolas Hodges at Cal Performances

01122010 006 * Notes * 
The pianist Nicolas Hodges paired Stockhausen and Beethoven for a recital at Cal Performances this afternoon. Hodges made Stockhausen's Klavierstück X oddly compelling for a piece played with wrists, forearms, and elbows. He was able to get quite a lot of sound out of the piano, and emphasize the percussive nature of the instrument. At the same time, he did nuance the various dynamics, and the strange, ethereal harmonics also came out beautifully. In comparison, Beethoven's Hammerklavier was less excitingly played. Hodges seemed to be holding his breath, and the performance was on the dry side. The playing was direct and perhaps a bit mechanical, yet not precise. One wishes a stronger case had been made for putting these particular pieces together, besides the obvious, that both are very difficult.

* Tattling * 
There was some whispering, but for the most part, the audience was very quiet. I kept laughing during the Stockhausen, out of both delight and shock, but kept this as silent as I could.


Elza van den Heever at SF Performances

Elza-van-den-Heever-Dario-AcostaWhilst the Opera Tattler attended the sold-out performance of Takács Quartet in Berkeley last Sunday, the Last Chinese Unicorn was over in San Francisco for Elza van den Heever's recital presented by San Francisco Performances.

* Notes * 
My biggest complaint today when it comes to opera singers is that nobody is willing to take risks anymore. Everyone wants to play it safe for fear of cracking or screwing up a note, so they stay within their comfort zone and manufacture one sterile, cookie-cutter performance after another. I quote the character of Florence Foster Jenkins in play Souvenir: "Nothing is more detrimental to good singing than this modern mania for accuracy...You say the notes are absolute, but what are they, after all? Signposts left by the composer to guide us."

I heard Elza van den Heever sing this past Sunday and the girl has a gorgeous voice. But singers with lovely voices are a dime a dozen. What sets Elza apart from the rest of the herd is that she is fearless. She understands that singing is not just about producing beautiful, precise notes, but about putting oneself out there even if it means being vulnerable and exposed. Elza is not afraid to relinquish a bit of control and allow the music to take her (and the audience) on a journey, potentially into unfamiliar territory. I have noticed on several occasions that she tears up during pieces and asked her how this affects her voice. "It is a give and take situation. You can either disconnect from the meaning to maintain that clear beautiful sound, but I really have no choice but to be in the moment," she says. "Whatever happens with the meaning of the poetry or the libretto, I am there. For me, staying truthful to the poetry and the message is most important and I just work with my voice as the emotions come and the music happens." Yes, the tears may interfere with her breath and distort her sound at times. She does make mistakes, but she just laughs them off nonchalantly in such a charming and endearing way that the audience cannot help but laugh along with her. Watching Elza's performance made me think about the origin of the word "Bravo," which literally means "brave" or "courageous" in Italian. Elza van den Heever is one soprano who is definitely worthy of that praise.

Elza opened with two Handel arias from Rodelinda and Alcina which, in my opinion, does not belong in her repertoire. Her voice, while perfectly suited for the long sustained phrases of German opera and lieder, lacks the agility to handle the fast-paced scales and ornamentation of Baroque music. In "Mio caro bene" and "Ma quando tornerai" Elza's breathing was somewhat labored and the long runs were a bit choppy. The accompanist, John Parr, was disconnected from the singer and appeared lost in his own little bubble of oblivion with his head stuck in the sheet music. Not once did he look at Elza or offer her a little support when she required slight adjustments in the tempi. However, even though the Baroque was not her forte, Elza's delivery was packed with emotion and sincerity, you could tell she knew exactly what she was singing about.

Elza seemed much more relaxed as she shifted gears and entered the realm of German lieder where it was evident that she was in her element. Strauss' Wiegenlied, one of my favorite songs, was beautifully executed with crisp clarity and nuanced coloring. Her Frauenliebe und - leben, a song cycle by Robert Schumann that documents a woman's passage through love, marriage, motherhood, and the death of her beloved, required no translation. Especially moving was her interpretation of "Du Ring an meinem Finger" and "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan" where her breaths turned into grieving sobs as her character mourned the loss of her husband. The set of Afrikaans songs was a rare treat. Elza sang these songs that depicted the beauty of her homeland with such enthusiasm and nostalgic melancholy that the smells, sounds, and sights described in the text became almost palpable to the senses. She gave two encores, both by Brahms: "Botschaft" and "O komme holde Sommernacht."

* Tattling * 
There was an error in the program notes. The text printed was for the wrong Wiegenlied that was written by Strauss in 1878 with the text by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallerslebenthat that starts "Die Ähren nur noch nicken." The one that Elza performed was Wiegenlied, op. 41, written in 1899, with the text "Träume, träume, du mein süßes Leben" by Richard Fedor Leopold Dehmel.


Christian Tetzlaff at Cal Performances

Tetzlaff9_high * Notes * 
Christian Tetzlaff played Bach's complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in Berkeley last night as part of Cal Performances 2010-2011 Koret Recital Series. In the first half he played Sonata No. 1 in G minor, Partita No. 1 in B minor, and Sonata No. 2 in A minor. It seemed he only paused briefly between pieces to tune. The contrasts in tempi and dynamics were clear. Tetzlaff was focused without sounding labored. There were a few passages that were muddy and a note or two may have been slightly squeaky, but the intensity of the playing was impressive.

After the hour-long dinner break were heard Partita No. 2 in D minor, which was incisive but passionate. After the second movement Courante Telzlaff left the stage, and when he returned he explained that there was a noise in the hall that was bothering him. He played the rest of the Partita without further incident. This was followed by Sonata No. 3 in C Major and Partita No. 3 in E Major. The music poured forth relentlessly and the sheer stamina required to play this was in and of itself extraordinary.

* Tattling * 
The audience was silent, murmuring approval after each movement, and clapping excitedly after each piece. Someone in G 5 of the orchestra level was even reading the score. There some coughing, and one person may have been asked to leave during the first half, and seemed rather offended. One watch alarm was heard at 7pm, and a cellular phone on vibrate was heard during the third Sonata.


Heidi Melton's Salon at the Rex

Melton_heidi_second_photo * Notes *
Soprano Heidi Melton gave a recital with pianist John Churchwell for the Salons at the Rex series yesterday evening. The first half of Melton's performance consisted of art songs by Sibelius and Korngold. As far as the pieces of the former, "Tuol Laulaa Neitonen" was rather dreamy, while "Hiljainen Kaupunki" had an otherworldly quality. One was impressed by how Churchwell used his breath to play, the phrasing was clear, and he absolutely attacked "Hjertats." Korngold's Lieder des Abschieds, Opus 14 were moving. Melton's voice is creamy and strong, and she was never overwhelmingly loud. The second half of the evening consisted of cabaret and torch songs, which Melton sang with verve. The Kurt Weill and Irving Berlin were especially great, but Melton was engaging in every single number.

* Tattling *
The recital was sold out, even though Adler Concert was programed for the same night. The audience was well-behaved, there was only the slightest bit of talking during the last piece. Melton was very aware of the time-constraint she was under, and at one point asked how we were doing on time. I believe it was jumping clapping man that exclaimed "We've got all night!"


Und kichern und huschen vorbei

Bryn-terfel * Notes * 
Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel is currently in California for performances at LA Phil this week, but he stopped by Berkeley for a recital presented by Cal Performances last night. The first half of the program was devoted to Schumann, and Terfel sang Belsatzar, Liederkreis, "Die beiden Grenadiere" from Romanzen und Balladen, and Mein Wagen rollet langsam. Accompanied deftly by Malcolm Martineau, Terfel exuded generosity and charm as a performer. The Liederkreis was particularly telling, Terfel sang with ease, the dynamic contrasts were beautiful, and his every word was clear. The last Schumann piece, Mein Wagen rollet langsam, was quite funny, and Terfel made is way off stage as Martineau continued to play.

Terfel and Martineau were likewise evocative and engaging in Finzi's Let Us Garlands Bring. The Quatre Chansons de Don Quichotte from Ibert was lovely, especially the "Chanson de la Mort." The last part of the program was a tribute to the Welsh-American baritone John Charles Thomas. Terfel proved rather droll here, singing various pieces and telling stories about John Charles Thomas. He started with Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees," moved on to the Welsh folksong "Ar Hyd y Nos," and sang Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Ghosts' High Noon" with much spirit. Terfel had us join him for "Home on the Range," and even joked the audience was better than the one at Carnegie Hall, where he gave essentially the same recital last Wednesday. The tribute ended with The Lord's Prayer set by Albert Hay Malotte.

The three encores were "Trade Winds" by Frederick Keel, "Green-Eyed Dragon With the Thirteen Tails" by Wolseley Charles, and "Tally Ho!" by Franco Leoni. Terfel sang the second piece with music, since it was only given to him last week after the aforementioned recital in New York.

* Tattling * 
Bryn Terfel commanded the rapt attention of the audience, which was unusually quiet. The young woman next to me did impatiently urge an usher to get out of her line of sight at the very beginning of Liederkreis. There was quite a lot of screaming during the ovations, someone even was moved to ululate.


Measha Brueggergosman at SF Performances

Brueggergosman Whilst the Opera Tattler attended the opening performance of The Makropulos Case at the War Memorial Opera House last Wednesday, the Last Chinese Unicorn was at the nearby Herbst Theatre for a program presented by San Francisco Performances.

* Notes * 
As soon as the lovely Measha Brueggergosman stepped on stage she lit up the entire theater. She was dressed in vibrant colors, wearing a luscious, deep red gown with a bright orange wrap draped over her shoulders, but it was her exuberant ear-to-ear smile that was the source of her radiance. She opened her mouth and what poured out was divine. Her voice is the perfect balance of warmth and brilliance. There are some singers who make you nervous and keep you at the edge of your seat because you are never quite certain whether or not they will deliver the next note with precision or enough nuance, or if they might run out of air. Brueggergosman is not one of those. She produces a sound that is deeply anchored in the belly with excellent breath control and effortless delivery. Her voice puts the audience at ease so they can sit back, relax and enjoy the music. She also sings with such expressiveness on her face that there is no need for her to move her arms, which remain firmly planted at her sides.

The program consisted of songs in German (Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Berg), French (Duparc), and Spanish (Turina) plus two romantic piano pieces played by the accompanist Justus Zeyen, who is also known for his collaborations with renowned German bass-baritone, Thomas Quasthoff. Zeyen's playing was earnest without the theatrical bells and whistles we too often see from some of the younger pianists today (who will remain nameless, as we all know who they are). His Chopin Nocturne in D-flat Major, Opus 27, No. 2 was especially poetic. Zeyen played with the physical stillness and stoicism of Arthur Rubinstein, but the notes had a tender song-like quality to them filled with bitter-sweet melancholy. Measha's German diction was certain better than her French. Her "Nachtstück" D.672 by Schubert, "Wiegenlied," Opus 41, No. 1 and "Ständchen," Opus 17, No. 2 both by Strauss were sublime. The Spanish songs were fiery and feisty, with elements of magical realism. Musically I did not care much for the Berg, but I suppose they were fine.

During intermission Measha did a costume change and came out in the second half rocking a full-length sassy sparkly silver sequin number. It was hot. Whistles and gasps were heard from the audience. She even changed her lip color to something a little more bright and pink to go with the outfit. This is clearly a woman who knows how to put together a look. For her encore, the soprano sang Samuel Barber's "Sure on this Shining Night." The real litmus test was passed with the purchase of her newly released CD titled Night and Dreams. That is how much I enjoyed Measha's singing and her charming on-stage charisma.

* Tattling * 
My date complained about some unpleasant body odor emanating from the elderly man sitting next to her. Other than that, the audience was well-behaved and appropriately held their applause for the breaks in between sets.


Eugene Petrushansky at BFX Ten

* Notes * 
The only Berkeley Festival and Exposition event I could attend this year was a harpsichord recital played by Eugene Petrushansky. The afternoon performance began with Bach's Toccata in F#, BMV 110, which I missed entirely due to my tardiness. I managed to hear all of the Suite in B Minor from Matthias Weckmann, which sounded clear and passionate. This was followed by two Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, K 133 in C Major and K 175 in A Minor. The first had an almost circus-like aspect, the second had an appealing percussive quality. Petrushansky made a good case for Froberger, playing Suite in C Major and a miniature suite. The constrasts in tempi were particularly fine.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and attentive. I believe I was the least well-behaved person there, given that I was late.