Reviews Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review

Lynn Spurgat in Review

NOVEMBER 5, 2019

I can’t remember a concert that provided as much sheer fun as did the recital performed by Lynn Spurgat and Jason Wirth on November 5 in Zankel Hall. Ms. Spurgat loves nothing better than to have a good time and will spare no effort to assure that her listeners do too. No wonder she draws such large audiences! (See her review from last year in this publication-Lynn Spurgat in Review May 2, 2018) Along with the merriment was fine music-making and tonal beauty. Lynn Spurgat possesses a voice lined with velvet and a charming stage presence.

The program presented five sets of songs, each in a different language. We heard Italian, Russian, French, Spanish, and German. Four selections from Rossini’s Soirees Musicales began the program. Singers often like to begin a recital singing in Italian, as its vowel sounds are highly compatible with vocal production and get the voice into its “groove.” Probably due to nerves, a few of the pitches in the fast arpeggiated passages of the first song “La Pastorella dell’Alpi” were slightly off. Soon, however, Ms. Spurgat’s voice settled in. By the last song, “La Danza” the good times were rolling. This well-known song is a tarantella, whose words exhort people to dance. As the tempo accelerates it becomes increasingly excited. At the end are the words frinche, frinche, (faster, faster) and finally Mamma mia, si saltera (saltera means “will jump”). Ms. Spurgat milked it for all it was worth, raising her arms above her head at the end. The audience laughed and cheered. I hate to throw a wet blanket on such happiness, but I feel I must. After every song in the concert (with one exception – more about that later) the audience applauded. I understand this impulse, of course, but it really should be thwarted. We don’t pay money to listen to sound of clapping. The majority of concert-goers know to wait until the end of the set, but in this matter the minority wins out every time. Let’s start a movement to print the words “Please hold your applause until the end of each set of songs” in a prominent position on the program. Thomas Quasthoff used to make this request from the stage, to my delight.

The rest of the first half was devoted to six songs by Rachmaninoff. What a treat to hear these beautiful works. In this country conservatories make sure that singers are well versed in Italian, French, German, Latin, and sometimes Spanish. Even English diction must be studied. In addition a singer must acquire acting and presentation skills – movement and gesture. Most important, of course, are vocal and general musical skills. Performing the music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev, et al. is no problem for instrumentalists, but for a singer it is a entirely different matter. There just isn’t time to do everything and learning Russian is no easy task. For this reason, the great Russian song repertoire is unjustly neglected by American singers. Her sumptuous voice sounded beautiful and her phrasing was just right for these passionate melodies.

I couldn’t wait for intermission to end to find out what new surprises lay in store. They weren’t long in coming. The audience gasped and applauded when Ms. Spurgat swept onto the stage in a different (and equally beautiful) gown, from the one she wore for the first half. This is common practice among divas, and I applaud it. The visual aspect of a concert is extremely important and having a new beauty upon which to rest the eyes is a joy. But this wasn’t all! Behind Ms. Spurgat came Mr. Wirth, looking dapper in a pink shirt and, as I recall, a vest and bow tie. Hurrah for sartorial equality! As they bowed together, the audience and performers shared a moment of happy laughter at this latest surprise.

Poulenc’s popular and frequently performed Banalités began the second half. Ms. Spurgat made the most of the rather broad Dada comedy of these pieces without crossing the line into over-acting. The fifth song of the set, “Sanglot,” (Sobs) is entirely different. It is full of genuine pathos and tragedy. The contrast with the silliness which precede it made it all the more heart-rending.

After the Poulenc we traveled to Argentina for Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas by Ginastera. These songs, composed in the midst of political unrest in 1943, make wide use of folk elements and simple melodies, with dance, so often an element in the music of Latin America often stepping to the fore.

For the last set Ms. Spurgat and Mr. Wirth were joined by a chamber ensemble consisting of viola, flute (doubling on piccolo,) trumpet and percussion. Schoenberg’s Cabaret Songs were written in 1901, before his embrace of serialism. Unlike his later works, they are completely tonal and immediately accessible. They were arranged for this ensemble by Colin Britt. Mr. Wirth conducted from the piano. These songs gave Ms. Spurgat opportunities to make use of her well-managed chest voice. During “Bum, bum” of Langsamer Waltzer,  she almost levitated. The audience began to applaud, but was shushed by a drum roll which segued into the last song. As soon as it ended, they sprang to their feet, clapping and whooping. I was the one lonely soul shouting the antiquated bravi.

I have spoken a great deal about Ms. Spurgat and now I must say some words about Jason Wirth. I have heard Mr. Wirth on several occasions and have always been highly impressed. He is a first-rate pianist, a musician of depth and knowledge, and a generous collaborator. A lively encore brought this entertaining evening to a happy close.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

Carnegie Hall presents: “For Justice and Peace” in Review

OCTOBER 11, 2019

A packed Carnegie Hall greeted the Sphinx Virtuosi for their annual New York concert on October 11. The program, entitled “For Justice and Peace,” consisted of seven pieces, all of which were in some way related to injustice, protest, and the hope for a better future.  The eighteen -member ensemble more than lived up to its name: the performance  of every composition was on the highest level.

The Sphinx Organization is one of the brightest lights in the cultural firmament of this country.  It was founded twenty-two years ago by Aaron P. Dworkin, who at the time was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.  He was distressed by the underrepresentation of people of color in classical music and decided to do something about it.  His success has been  phenomenal. The programs under the umbrella of the Sphinx Organization span education initiatives, annual competitions and scholarships, professional performance opportunities, and leadership training and career development. From the beginning violin students in Detroit and Flint elementary schools to the extraordinary recipients of the $50,000 Sphinx Medals of Excellence, Sphinx has empowered musicians of color to succeed onstage and off.

Friday’s program started off with Fuga con Pajarillo,  by the twentieth-century Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero. The beginning sounded like Bach, but after a while the Latin rhythm of the pajarillo, a Venezuelan dance form, appeared. After the performance, the concertmaster (and excellent soloist) for this piece, told us that it was  programmed  to celebrate the great musical tradition in Venezuela, his native country, which is presently going through very difficult times.  It was performed with expertise and aplomb, getting the program off to a fine start.

Next we heard the final movement Allegro assai from Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings of 1939. As the program explained, Bartók was an immigrant, fleeing Europe after the rise of Hitler, and hoping to find justice and peace in this country.  He wrote this piece shortly before his departure from Hungary.

After a fine display of virtuosity in the first two selections, there was a calming respite in Philip Herbert’s Elegy: In Memoriam – Stephen Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence was a British man who was killed in a racial incident.  This beautiful work employed harmonic and melodic material from both Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Ravel’s  Pavane for a Dead Princess. And why not? Homage is a respected technique in musical composition, and has been employed  by the greatest composers.  This Elegy was beautiful in its own right, and no doubt drew a tear from more than one eye.

I was intrigued by the title of the next piece, Global Warming. Climate change is certainly a hot topic today, but how could one compose a piece about it?  The answer came from the woman who introduced it- each  composition, after Fuga con Pajarillo,  received an introduction from the stage by one of the performers. Composed shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, it refers not to climate change but to the “celebration of divergent cultures through their own folk music.” Written with a warm sense of hopefulness about the planet and global relations, it was one of the first works by an African- American composer to be performed by the National Symphony of South Africa after the election of Nelson Mandela. Irish fiddling encountered Middle Eastern modality to their mutual benefit.  For this listener, though, it went on a little too long.

The next piece, from which the concert took its title, was For Justice and Peace, for Violin, Bass, and String Orchestra by the Sphinx Virtuosi’s composer-in-residence and bass player, Xavier Foley. Co-commissioned by the New World Symphony, Sphinx Organization and Carnegie Hall, tonight’s performance marked its New York premiere.  Mr. Foley wrote ,“I felt it was my job to illustrate how the issues of justice and peace remain critical to our society today.”  On this occasion, the Sphinx was joined by the excellent Venezuelan violinist Rubén Rengel, 22,  winner of the 2018 Annual Sphinx Competition.  Mr. Rengel and Mr. Foley, on bass, showed off their great virtuosity on difficult solo lines.  The sound of a gavel, struck by one of the violinists, and quotations from spirituals added to a portrayal of the  justice system and, in Mr. Foley’s words, “certain challenges it faces.”  This deeply affecting work earned a standing ovation.

What could follow this heartfelt tribute? Very fast Schubert, of course!  Shortly before composing the Death and the Maiden Quartet, it turns out, Schubert, along with some rowdy friends, was arrested by the Austrian secret police for “insulting and opprobrious language.” According to the program notes, having this blot on his name was a hindrance to his activities.  Hence Herr Schubert’s anti-oppression bona fides. The final movement, Presto, from the aforementioned quartet was performed with urgent intensity.

The last piece on the program was Our Journey: 400 Years from Africa to Jamestown. This was the first performance of the opening of the opera We Shall Overcome by Damien Sneed.  Two excellent young singers, mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, and baritone Will Liverman, the small but sonorous Chorale Le Chateau, and Mr. Sneed on piano joined the Sphinx for a moving description of the arduous Atlantic crossing, the opening of Mr. Sneed’s opera.  This four-minute excerpt made me want to hear more of this work, which combines African rhythms, spirituals, gospel, jazz, and European musical techniques.

Indeed my only slight reservation about this concert was the short length of all its works.  Besides the Sneed excerpt, the Schubert offering was one movement from a quartet, and the Bartók was a movement of a divertimento.  The average length of a piece was less than eight minutes. As a frequent concertgoer, I am used to hearing at least one work of a substantial length from a Carnegie Hall concert.  Even vocal recitals organize single songs into sets.  There were other unusual aspects to the program as well.  There was no intermission, and midway through the concert a screen was lit and a short film about the Sphinx Organization was shown. Afterwards, the President and Artistic Director, Afa S. Dworkin gave a speech. Then we returned to the music.

Any reservations of mine about the unusual format of this concert were not shared by the audience.  The evening ended with a long and ecstatic ovation.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day in Review

MARCH 10, 2014

International Women’s Day was celebrated by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) with a concert in Avery Fisher Hall employing four hundred sixty-nine choral singers, sixty-three instrumentalists, and three vocal soloists. The first half was a pleasing selection of contemporary pieces for and about women sung by the combined forces of ten choirs from all over the world. And what fine choirs they were! Beautiful sounds, with excellent diction, and near perfect intonation. Clearly these women and their conductors were dedicated to this music, and the music was worthy of their labors. The first piece was Guy Forbesʼ gorgeous Ave Maria. Written for a cappella women’s chorus, this piece should become a classic. It is immediately accessible without being in any way predictable or saccharine. It was followed by another lovely song praising the Virgin Mary, Eleanor Daley’s I Sing of a Maiden, also an a cappella composition. Like all the music on the first half, it was tonal but contained interesting harmonic twists and turns. For the next two songs we were transported south of the border. The Brazilian composer Eduardo Lakschevitzʼs jaunty Travessura was followed by Cancion de los Tsáchilas which is a compilation of four folk songs, cleverly arranged by Michael Sample. The energetic performances of these two works were, unfortunately marred by the loud footsteps of a very large group of audience members who incomprehensibly were allowed to enter while the music was going on. A violin and a cello joined the singers and pianist for two pieces depicting women in moments of reflection, Joan Szymkoʼs Always Coming Home and Jocelyn Hagen’s In the Lavender Stillness of Dawn. Nancy Telferʼs The Blue Eye of God employed breath sounds and whispers. Joy by John Muehleisen brought the first half to a happy conclusion. The ten choir directors are to be applauded for their fine work in preparing their choirs, and kudos to conductor Hilary Apfelstadt for pulling it all together in what must have been a short rehearsal time.

DCINY Carmina Burana

The second half was devoted to one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the choral repertoire, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Once more the large chorus was the star. It was comprised of two hundred seventy-two singers from seven international choruses, none of whom sang on the first half. The biggest challenge in singing this music is learning the words, which are in Latin and an ancient form of German, and which often must be articulated in rapid fire manner. It takes hours of drill. It was obvious that these choruses and their directors had done their job well. They performed with commitment, confidence, tonal beauty and fine intonation. The large group was alternatively sensitive and powerful. The difficult men’s sextet “Si, Puer cum Puella,” written for solo voices, was wisely performed by all the men. This resolved the intonation and tessitura problems so often encountered in this piece. The women sang the lovely, tender middle section of “Floret silva nobilis” with delicacy and perfect ensemble. I was especially impressed by the splendid Brooklyn Youth Chorus. They sang as one, in perfect tune with beautiful sound. Undaunted by language difficulties, they performed by memory. How wonderful it is to hear the young people of our city demonstrate such musical accomplishment! Their conductor, Dianne Berkun, is surely one of our city’s treasures.

Unfortunately the soloists did not attain the high level set by the choruses. Baritone Keith Harris has a very beautiful voice, but often it wasn’t loud enough to cut through the orchestra. He also tended to sing flat in the soft passages. Soprano Penelope Shumate looked stunning in her strapless red gown as she sauntered provocatively across the stage. However, her high soprano voice was not ideally suited for “In Trutina.” This beautiful, simple, expressive song lies in the low register where her voice isn’t at its best. She was better suited for the high “Dulcissime,” where her tones rang out loud and clear. Before the concert began an announcement was made that the tenor soloist was sick but would nevertheless do his best. As New York City is full of singers, one would think that a healthy high tenor could have been found to serve as his replacement. Fortunately he has only one song, “Cignus ustus cantat” (“The roast swan”) He attempted to compensate for his vocal problems by hamming it up, pretending to conduct, and interacting with the chorus, When his singing voice gave out, he spoke his lines. He did manage to get out a few notes which showed what a lovely instrument is at his disposal on a better day. The forgiving audience applauded his effort.

The conductor, George Vance, held his huge forces together admirably, and the orchestra supported the singers with conviction and fine ensemble. This was a well-paced and exciting performance, which the large audience obviously loved. They leapt to their feet as soon as the lasts notes of the final “O Fortuna” had finished resounding.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

MidAmerica Productions presents: Romance: German and French Romantic Music for Flute and Piano in Review

MARCH 6, 2014

Patrick Gallois, flutist and Maria Prinz, pianist

MidAmerica Productions is one of the busiest concert presenters in New York, indeed worldwide. In my experience, their concerts are always on a high level and their audiences substantial. Weill Hall was almost full for this recital, no small accomplishment for an instrumental recital in which the performers are not household names. The concert focused on that most beloved musical era, the Romantic period. The first half was focused on German music and the second half, French. The stated goal, according to the program notes, was to “bring listeners to explore another atmosphere in another world.”

First we heard Three Romances, Op. 94, by Robert Schumann. Originally written for oboe, Mr. Gallois, needed to change only a few notes to make them work for the flute. These pieces were presented by Robert to his wife Clara in 1849 as a Christmas present. These lovely “songs without words” no doubt made a hit with their recipient. As we are reminded in the distinctly romantic program notes written by Ms. Prinz, Robert and Clara Schumann’s relationship was ”one of the most famous love stories in music history.” These exquisite, tuneful pieces remind one of Robert Schumannʼs Lieder and could probably be successfully performed on any treble instrument. The second, in the major mode, is especially beautiful. All three were given a sensitive and shapely performance.

The remainder of the first half was devoted to Carl Reineckeʼs Undine Sonata, Op. 167. In addition to being unquestionably “romantic” in style, this piece is distinctly programmatic. Undine was a water spirit who fell in love with a human, was betrayed by him, gave him a fatal kiss and then returned to the water. In the first movement the waves and undulations of the water were clearly depicted in the flute line, played with limpid fluidity by Mr. Gallois, and by the arpeggiated chords in the piano, sensitively executed by Ms. Prinz. The sparkling second movement begins with rapid staccato notes in the flute (Undine is getting excited!) followed by dotted rhythm of the piano (the knight has arrived!) The third movement is a beautiful love duet, played with great feeling by Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz. Then, in the fourth movement, the Sturm und Drang of betrayal and retribution are portrayed in rapid scale passages and diminished seventh chords. At the end of the piece we return to the rocking 6/8 meter of the first movement as, like a good Rhine maiden, Undine returns to her original home.

After intermission we heard a lovely Romance, Op. 37, by Camille Saint-Saëns. The flute’s tender melody was played beautifully, and its rapid scales and octave passages were tossed off with aplomb. Next we heard Charles-Marie Widorʼs Suite, Op. 34. The beautiful third movement, entitled Romance, was captivating, and the technical challenges of the finale were deftly managed by both performers. Its second movement is evidently a most effective Scherzo, as it elicited delighted chuckles from the audience.

The last piece on the program was Gabriel Piernéʼs Sonata, Op. 36. Originally this piece was written for violin, however it is often performed on the flute. Indeed, the original sheet music mentions that it can be played by either instrument. During this work, the flute was sometimes overbalanced by the piano, especially towards the end. Perhaps this problem would have been alleviated if the lid of the piano had been moved to the short stick. The lid was fully open for the entire program, but there were no balance problems in previous works.

The audience was obviously enchanted with everything Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz did and rewarded them with fulsome applause. The encore was Maurice Ravelʼs “Kaddisch,” from the composer’s Deux Mélodies hébraïques. Originally written for voice and piano, the voice part was transcribed for flute by Mr. Gallois.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

CD in Review: Patrick Gallois, flute; Maria Prinz, piano

NAXOS 8.573033; PLAYING TIME 74:33

Patrick Gallois, flutist and Maria Prinz, pianist

The Baroque period is rich in solo flute music. The two greats, Bach and Handel, each wrote several sonatas, and many of the lesser geniuses contributed as well. In the Romantic period, Schubert favored the instrument with a set of virtuoso variations and the French wrote reams of tuneful and often showy pieces. In the twentieth century many of the most prominent composers, among them Prokofiev, Bartok, Poulenc, Hindemith, Piston, and Ibert wrote solo flute music. And today’s composers love the flute.

The Classical period is a different story. Unless the flutist has an orchestra at her (or his) disposal to play a Mozart concerto, she will find almost nothing. Enter Patrick Gallois. Mr. Gallois, a prominent French flutist and conductor, has skillfully transcribed four Mozart violin sonatas, K.376, K.377, K. 378, and K. 570, for the flute. At the age of eight, Mozart wrote sonatas that could be played by either flute or violin, as was common practice in the Baroque era. This is the precedent for Mr. Gallois’ adaptations.

The lovely Sonata K.570 has a different history from the other three works. In 1789, Mozart entered this work into his list of compositions as a solo piano sonata. In 1796 It was published posthumously by Artaria as a sonata for piano with violin accompaniment. Subsequent scholarship has concluded that this was not Mozart’s intent, although the arranger is not known.

For the most part, the flute is well suited to these genial, accessible compositions. A few changes have to be made. As the violin’s range goes a third or a fourth below that of the flute (depending on the flute,) there are some octave transpositions. The flute is more powerful in its high register than when playing lower notes. The notes in the first octave are just not very loud. This is not the case with the violin, and for this reason it often behooves the flute to play in a higher octave in order to balance the piano. Where the violin plays double stops, the flute plays arpeggios. These changes do not impinge on the musical effectiveness of the pieces.

Unlike most flute sonatas these pieces do not give both instruments equal importance; the piano is the more important member of the duo. Indeed, the sonatas are referred to in some editions as piano sonatas with violin accompaniment. Maria Prinz is a fine pianist who plays with style and verve, always vital but never overpowering her partner. Mr. Gallois has a lovely sound, beguiling phrasing and especially clean articulation. No doubt many flutists and fans of flute music will find great pleasure in this new addition to the repertoire.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

Concert for Peace – Celebrating the Spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. (DCINY)

JANUARY 17, 2011

Distinguished Concerts International New York, or DCINY, as the group calls itself, rounds up choruses from around the world, brings them to New York and presents them in concerts mostly composed of recently written but highly accessible music. The concert on January 17 was dedicated entirely to the music of DCNY’s composer-in-residence, Karl Jenkins. Originally from Wales, Mr. Jenkins is, according to his website, the most frequently performed living composer in the world. His style is tonal and presents a fusion of classical, ethnic, and popular music. The music often sounds like the best of movie music; indeed Mr. Jenkins has achieved great success as a composer of both television commercials and film scores. Although his music is sometimes too repetitious for my taste, it is often rousing and at times quite beautiful.

The two works presented on this concert were Mr. Jenkins’ “Gloria” and “Stabat Mater.” The first piece was a U.S. premiere. The major part of its text was taken from the Gloria of the Latin Mass. Interspersed were readings from other religions: the Bhagavad Gita, (Hindu), the Diamond Sutra, (Buddhism), the Tao Te Ching (Taoism), and the Qur’an (Islam). The choruses were the Kings Chorale from Canada, the Laramie County Community College Choir from Wyoming, the Methodist College Chapel Choir from Ireland, the Ottawa University Concert Choir, and the Sno-King Community Chorale from Washington. Charlotte Daw Paulsen was the mezzo-soprano soloist and DCNY’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Griffith conducted. The orchestra was drawn from local players. The choruses sang with assurance and beauty of tone, although from where I was sitting they were at times not as loud as might have been wished. Ms. Paulsen has a lovely voice but was similarly under-powered. The exemplary conducting of Jonathan Griffith cannot be faulted.

The second half of the program, almost twice as long as the first half, was a performance of Mr. Jenkins’ “Stabat Mater,” written in 2008. This work employs ancient instruments and modes from the Middle East alongside the standard Western harmonies and instrumentation. As he did in the first half’s “Gloria,” Mr. Jenkins interpolated six movements in other languages which strikingly contrasted with the Latin of the standard “Stabat Mater” text. One of these movements, “And the Mother did weep” was, for me, the high point of the concert. This lovely, haunting piece for chorus and orchestra was full of surprising and enchanting twists and turns of melody and harmony. I hope I have the chance to hear it again. In other interpolated movements, there is also a part for “ethnic vocals,” performed by Belinda Sykes, who also played the Mey, a Middle Eastern double reed instrument. The choruses for the second half of the program were the Kirk Choir of Pasadena Presbyterian Church, from California, the Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut, the Fairfield University Chamber Singers, the Saddleworth Musical Society from England, the Sine Nomine Singers of North Carolina, the University of Johannesburg Choir from South Africa, and the West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Chorus from New Jersey. These groups, all well-prepared, were capable of more power than the forces on the first half, although their intonation wavered a bit during the a cappella “Fac ut portem Christi mortem.” The concert ended with a grand climax, as the choruses from the first half joined in from the balcony. The audience leapt to its feet and there was thunderous applause.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

Daniel Seigel, baritone in Review

NOVEMBER 6, 2010

Daniel Seigel

Daniel Seigel is the 2009 winner of the National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Competition. His debut concert on November 6 at Weill Recital Hall was made possible by the Charles and Francis Christmann Estate. (One assumes a connection between the Competition and the Estate.) His rather idiosyncratic program showcased his many gifts and skills and built to a wonderful climax.

Let it be stated at the start: Mr. Seigel is an excellent singer. Apart from an occasional slight instability, especially on soft notes at the ends of phrases, and a somewhat stiff physical presentation at the beginning of the program, (both due to nerves, no doubt) he displayed mastery of his craft. The voice is warm and rich with a nice spin, which allows him to glide effortlessly between registers. His diction is excellent in English, French, German and Italian, and he sings with strong emotional commitment. Mr. Seigel was expertly accompanied by his father, Lester Seigel.

The program began with “L’Ultimo ricordo,” by Rossini. Unfortunately no translation of the Italian was provided. At the end of the program notes, however, we are told that the song is “about a dying man who returns a pressed flower to his wife that he had kept since their wedding when she carried it.” This brings me to a paragraph which should perhaps skipped by those who are interested only in Mr. Seigel.

It never ceases to amaze me that presenting groups spend thousands of dollars and a great deal of time and energy to showcase a performer, and yet make up a printed program which appears amateurish, does not provide the necessary information, and, as in this case, presents information that actually misleads the audience. I must state that which should be obvious: except in rare instances (i.e. a Lieder recital with many individual songs by one or just a few composers), the work to be performed goes on the left, the composer (and his dates) on the right. A set of songs should be indicated as such with the individual songs listed underneath. None of this was done. As a result, the audience didn’t know when to applaud or indeed, at times, what they were hearing. The program notes provided many clues, but the audience should not have to read program notes during the performance. A performer of Mr. Seigel’s calibre deserves the audience’s full attention. The only other thing to which the audience should give attention to is the sheet of song texts and their translations, which guide one through the song. It is my personal preference that not only the texts of songs in foreign languages, but also those of the songs in English should be provided. No matter how fine a singer’s diction is, it can be hard to understand even one’s native language when it is sung. In the case of this program (the musical aspect of which I promise I will return to), none of the twelve English texts was printed, neither of the two Italian texts was printed, all five French texts and their translations were printed, as was the case with the one German song. The worst problem of all was that twice the individual songs of a set were not listed, so one thought that the title of the set was an individual song. The attentive and well-mannered audience members were understandably confused, and some began to applaud at the wrong place, thus no doubt causing themselves a good deal of embarrassment. With all the shuffling and confusion I, for one, missed out on a good deal of Mr. Seigel’s no doubt fine and carefully considered performance. I would caution performers to proofread their programs, even if making up the printed program is not their “job.”

After warming up on the Rossini, Mr. Seigel presented one Lied: Mahler’s “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt,” a humorous song poking fun at preachers. It seemed a little odd to me that this was the lone offering of German Lieder, a genre which most cognoscenti believe to be the greatest body of repertoire for voice and piano. Mr. Seigel and his excellent accompanist, however, gave an ingratiating performance. I would have loved to have heard a little more Mahler, but we now skipped to the twentieth century with Samuel Barber’s cycle “Despite and Still.” Daniel Seigel clearly feels a strong affinity for the repertoire of the middle of the twentieth century and he performed these songs with assurance and intensity. An abrupt and welcome change of mood came with Mercutio’s scintillating aria “Mab, la reine des mensonges” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.” Mr. Seigel wowed the audience with his rapid fire, crystal clear French. A stirring rendition of Ives’s masterpiece “General William Booth Enters into Heaven” completed the first half.

The second half began with “Hai gia vinta la causa,” the Count’s famous recitative and aria from the third act of “Le Nozze di Figaro”. From the comfort he displayed in the role and the conviction he brought to it, one suspects that he has performed it in its entirety. If he hasn’t already, no doubt he will soon. With his tall stature and elegant good looks he would make a fine Count. Works by two composers from the first half of the twentieth century, Gerald Finzi and Francis Poulenc, followed. Then we returned to opera, with an impassioned performance of “L’orage s’est calmé” from Bizet’s “Les Pêcheurs des perles”. The concert ended brilliantly with the “Soliloquy” from “Carousel”. This piece represents a revolutionary moment in the American Musical Theater. It is far longer than the any show tune up until that time and contains elements of recitative and aria interspersed. It is worthy of inclusion in a recital of “serious” music, indeed when performed as well as it was on November 6 it is almost miraculous. The ecstatic crowd leapt to their feet in a well-deserved ovation. The rather topical encore was “Brother, can you spare a dime?”

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

Margaret Cornils, flute

MARCH 26, 2010

A packed Weill Recital Hall greeted flutist Margaret Cornils for this recital, which was sponsored by MidAmerica Productions. The first half was made up of three of the most popular pieces in the flute repertoire: Bach’s B Minor Sonata, Debussy’s Syrinx, and Poulenc’s Sonata. Some of Bach’s flute sonatas were written for flute and basso continuo (a keyboard instrument, whose left hand is doubled by a bass instrument such as a cello, and whose right hand improvises chords stipulated by the composer.) The B Minor Sonata, however, is written for flute and an obbligato (fully written-out) keyboard – without cello. Although cellist Kevin Price blended well with the other fine performers, his part was superfluous.

Due to its quasi-improvisatory character, Syrinx is a different piece for each flutist. Cornils’ rendition was somewhat matter of fact, but nevertheless effective. The Poulenc Sonata was the most satisfying offering on the first half. Her phrasing in the opening of the Cantilena was pure perfection, and the last movement (presto giocoso) displayed an impressive third-octave technique and clear double-tonguing.

The second half of the program was as unknown as the first half was familiar. It opened with Gary Schocker’s Musique Francais, written in 1997. This is a pleasant, skillfully written composition, with several tips of the hat to Poulenc. The third movement is a virtuoso’s tour de force in which Cornils again showed her fine technique. The next piece, Pandean Fable by Clifton Williams, effectively displayed the haunting tone color of the bass flute.

The recital concluded with Paul Agricole Genin’s arrangement of Carnival of Venice. A surprisingly interesting, beautiful and rather lengthy introduction preceded the familiar trite tune. Once the introduction was over, the virtuosic variations which followed exploited all the tricks up the flutist’s sleeve. Cornils was up to the challenge and the audience rewarded her with a standing ovation.

Sharon Jenson was the excellent pianist.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

Cornerstone Chorale and Brass

OCTOBER 11, 2009

I’ve never encountered anything quite like “The Courage to Care,” the program presented by Bruce Vantine’s Cornerstone Chorale and Brass. Part church service, part passion play, part concert, this program assumes a unique form in which Mr. Vantine attempts to carry out his stated mission “to use our time, talents and resources to minister to our brothers and sisters in need.”

On hand were a brass quintet, a pianist, a percussionist, two narrators, a chorus of twenty one and the conductor-composer-creator, Dr. Bruce Vantine. The performance ran without intermission and the audience was instructed to withhold applause until the end. The program was divided into five large sections entitled “By your will created,” “Called to serve all people,” “The courage to care,” “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” and “Be not afraid.” We were provided with an eleven page program which contained the words of the narrators and of the choral selections, and I am happy to report that the lights in the audience were sufficiently bright that one could read the program with ease. This was especially helpful during the two hymns, which were audience sing-alongs. At other times it was hardly necessary, as the diction of the narrators and singers was exemplary.

Their fine diction was not the only way in which the Chorale excelled. Throughout the program they sang with beautiful sound, excellent intonation, and sincerity of intention. The several solos performed by chorus members were all well executed. Standing front and center, attractively clad in red, black and white, and singing everything by memory, they were the stars of the show. Equally skilled, however, was the brass quintet. During one of the most poignant moments of the “God so loved, etc.” section we were treated to a performance of one of music’s most beautiful pieces; the Adagio from Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 (“Pathetique.”) Here Mr. Vantine’s message seemed to be that during times of greatest emotion, when words fail, music speaks.

This listener would have enjoyed the program more had there been fewer Christological exhortations throughout. To those of us who are not of the Christian faith, a program such as this can seem presumptuous and even distasteful. However, I was probably the only non-believer in the hall, and I can report that the rest of the audience loved it, as they demonstrated with a standing ovation at the end.

Written by Barrett Cobb for New York Concert Review.

A Lamb’s Tale

from Walk Shepherdess, Walk by Barrett Cobb

Our story begins on bright summer’s day. Ann, the Shepherdess, is out for a walk in the country. With a light heart she strides through the meadows, singing as she goes.

Her young friend, Ida, sees her from far away and runs to meet her, shouting “wait for me, wait for me!” Behind Ida runs a little lamb named Flora. Flora loves Ida and follows her everywhere.

Ann turns to greet Ida and Flora. Filled with excitement, Ida tells the Shepherdess about the sheep she hopes to find.

First, a ram, which is a male sheep, with horns the color of ebony. Ebony is a beautiful, shiny, black wood which is very strong.

Next, a ewe, which is a female sheep – but one with golden feet!

After the gold-footed ewe, they may a find a lamb (a baby sheep like Flora) with fleece, or wool, so shiny it looks like silver.

Look over the rocky hills at the swirling ocean. How the waves gleam and glitter in the sun! Their spray is as shiny and beautiful as the lamb’s fleece.

Last of all, our threesome might come upon the leader of the sheep. He is called the wether. The wether is the most important of all the sheep because he shows the sheep the way home. (Most grown-ups don’t know this word, but now you do!) Because he is so special, he wears a beautiful crystal bell. What a wonderful day it is! Look! Ann is playing her flute! Everyone is happy, or so it seems. But wait, I’ve noticed Flora, Ida’s lamb, has been looking sad. Why do you think this is? I think I know why. Flora loves Ida, her mistress, very much. After all, Flora thinks of Ida as her mother. But Ida is paying so much attention to other sheep – the ram with the ebony horns, the ewe with the gold feet, the silver-haired lamb, and the wether, with his crystal bell. And this makes Flora feel left out. Well, I can understand how she feels, can’t you? Flora feels sad. Flora feels mad! Why should these other sheep get all of Ida’s attention? And so Flora does something naughty. Ida has been collecting daisies in her basket all day. Flora kicks the basket and scatters the daisies all over the place. What a mess! Well, I think Ida understands why Flora did what she did. And I think Ida forgives her. Thank goodness!

Flora is a little tired. She’s just a baby after all. So Ida picks her up and carries her as they follow the wether towards home. Now Flora is happy again.

Ida feels tired too, so they stop for a few minutes to rest. Ann, the Shepherdess isn’t tired at all, and she dances her happiness. Meanwhile Ida makes daisy chains. Do you know how to make a daisy chain? If you look very, very carefully at what Ida is doing, maybe you will see how it is done.

Look at how delighted Ann is when Ida gives her the daisy chain she has just made!

And what if they never do find the ram with ebony horns, the ewe with gold feet, the silver-coated lamb, or the wether with the crystal bell? Maybe it doesn’t really matter. They still have had a beautiful walk through the countryside on a lovely summer’s day.

And, most important of all, they have each other.

Often songs tell stories. “Walk Shepherdess, Walk” certainly does! Sometimes underneath the obvious story there is a hidden story. And sometimes it is fun to make up your own hidden story. This is what I have done in “A Lamb’s Tale.” Maybe you would like to make up your own story. I’d love to hear it.