At Merkin Hall, Music With the Theme of Women as Patrons
By Bernard Holland
From the New York Times - April 13, 2006
The New York Festival of Song returned to Merkin Concert Hall on Tuesday night with another bundle of vocal music wrapped in an idea. The theme was women as patrons of the arts, or put another way, the composer as protégé. The program tripped happily through history, naming those who helped the musically important and letting us hear the responses they got.
There were short stops at the Renaissance (Isabella d'Este), the early Baroque (Queen Christina of Sweden), the Rococo (Marie Antoinette) and Russian Romanticism (Nadezhda von Meck). The evening lingered over the largess of newly rich American women (Winnaretta Singer, Tilly Losch, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge and Alice Esty). A new piece by Paul Moravec, three songs called "Parables," remembered the late Anna Moffo.
There were four singers. Steven Blier, who played most of the piano parts, offered running commentary interrupted only by the music. Mr. Blier, who plays well, can also be winning with words. If perhaps there were a few too many, the festival's loyal audience ate up every one.
Mr. Moravec's songs occupied parallel worlds, and it was sometimes hard to know where one's concentration ought to settle. The vocal lines are long, ardent and well shaped. The piano parts are of a different character: intricate and full of interesting life with racing virtuoso passages, bird-like treble chirpings and tumbling harmonic progressions. The ear veered from one side to the other as if at a musical tennis match.
It was nice to hear William Sharp singing Fauré's delicate "Cinq mélodies de Venise" next to Kurt Weill's bluntly beautiful music from "The Seven Deadly Sins," here with Alexandra Montano. Henri Dutilleux's veiled little "San Francisco Night" made an appearance, as did Ned Rorem's cheerful, wriggling "Snake." Virgil Thomson's "Love Song" was interesting for Kenneth Koch's non-sequitur lyrics. Songs by Marc Blitzstein and Paul Bowles had their attractions.
Carolyn Betty's soprano is full and promising. She is young, and when the top of her voice opens up more, that touch of glare and hardness will probably go away. Mr. Sharp is a satisfying singer; and in her briefer appearances, Sasha Cooke showed a nicely developing mezzo-soprano, although the Tchaikovsky duets with Ms. Betty at the end invite the kind of full-throated emotions that are hard to keep in tune. Ms. Montano did well. Michael Barrett was the evening's other pianist.