Susan Graham joins young artists in closing “Song Continues” program

Sun Jan 18, 2015 at 1:29 pm
Susan Graham performed in the "Song Continues" program Saturday night at Zankel Hall. Photo: B Ealovega

Susan Graham performed in the “Song Continues” program Saturday night at Zankel Hall. Photo: B Ealovega

An annual highlight of Carnegie Hall’s January programming is “The Song Continues,” a week of master classes and recitals coordinated by (and in celebration of) the great Marilyn Horne.  The final concert of the 2015 edition, which took place Saturday in Zankel Hall, presented a lineup of outstanding young singers in a recital covering a wide range of repertoire.

Cecelia Hall, who gave a solo recital in Weill Hall last year as part of the week-long program, led off the evening with Schoenberg’s Op. 2 songs. She showed composure in “Erwartung,” with a clear, pleasing tone that had a tendency towards sounding metallic. In all four of these songs, in fact, Hall’s voice sounded just a little off, not incompatible with the repertoire, but not exactly a snug fit, either. While she was able to find a more peppery sound in her lower register, her top was piercing in a way that did not flatter the music.

She was far more at home in Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques. There was more ease in her tone, a quicker, more natural vibrato, and more color. As is her wont, Hall allowed her flirtatious acting to become distracting in “Quel galant m’est comparable,” but “Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques” was a picture of placidity.

The pianists who performed on Saturday were superb, and Hall’s collaborator, Renate Rohlfing was chief among them, masterfully blending colors and crafting lyrical, breathing phrases. With sensitivity and glittering touch, Rohlfing has all the makings of a truly exceptional lieder accompanist.

Tenor Russell Thomas was pressed into service for Verdi’s Requiem with the New York Philharmonic, and DeAndre Simmons proved an admirable replacement. He sang Brahms’s “Four serious songs,” Op. 121, with impressive poise and formidable presence. Listed in the program as a bass, Simmons seems in many ways closer to a bass-baritone. He has a sinewy, smoking sound with a hint of gristle that clears up as he gets higher. He was not able to reach some of his lowest notes at full voice, as in the resounding “Toten” at the bottom of “Ich wandte mich und sahe an alle.” Still, he showed in these songs that power and tenderness both are within his scope. Brent Funderbunk’s accompaniment bloomed, allowing for the natural resonance of the music.

Soprano Alison King sang four contrasting songs by the nineteenth-century composer and singer Pauline Viardot. There were some shortcomings in her singing that were hard to miss– her French is awkward, and her intonation tends to be just a little tart. In “Havanaise,” a set of variations, her coloratura felt out of breath. But King possesses a plush tone that she can was to good use both in the playful “Nixe Binsefuss” and the operatic “Scène d’Hermione.”

The real revelation among the young singers was baritone Edward Parks, performing selections from Schubert’s Schwanengesang. The six he chose were those set to the poems of Heinrich Heine, and in them he showed a wide range of vocal character. In “Das Fischermädchen” he displayed a crisp, even tone, nimbly treading the music’s lines. “Am Meer” and “Der Atlas” showed dramatic presence and immense vocal weight. These two conveyed the enormous power in his voice, and allowed him to unleash fiery, spacious top notes. “Ihr Bild” and “Der Doppelgänger” were in another vein still, sung with devastating simplicity.

Susan Graham provided star power to close the evening. It should come as no surprise, but she sounded magnificent, showing precise control in all her selections. She was breathtaking in Alfred Bachelet’s “Chère nuit,” her gossamer soft voice floating over Brian Zeger’s glittering accompaniment. She nimbly tossed off Reynaldo Hahn’s plucky “Quand je fus pris au pavillon” and her account of Poulenc’s chestnut “Les chemins de l’amour” was glistening, her lush tone creating whirling romance. After an emotional elegy to Marilyn Horne, she presented an encore, a dusky, hazy rendition of Poulenc’s “Violon.”


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