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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Concert Review: Canciones Con Gusto

The New York Festival of Song at Merkin Concert Hall

Wallis Giunta. Photo by Barbara Stoneham, 
from Wallis.Giunta.Ca
The New York Festival of Song kicked off its final concert series of the season on Tuesday night, with Spanish Gold, a thorough exploration of the music of the Iberian peninsula, curated and led from the piano by Festival director Steven Blier.

Aided by fellow pianist Michael Barrett, Mr. Blier led what he termed a "whirlwind tour" through the many genres, languages and traditions that, taken together, comprise the vast world of Spanish song. Well-known composers like Enrique Granados and Xavier Montsalvatge were represented, next to Basque folk melodies and Sephardic songs. The singers sang in Basque, Catalan, Ladino (the language of Spanish Jews) and of course, Castilian Spanish. 

The evening featured four young soloists on their way up. Corinne Winters has an impressive instrument, and she and mezzo Wallis Giunta sounded at their best when they were allowed to sing in duet. Ms. Giunta is a young Canadian mezzo-soprano on the rise. She was by turns fiery and moving, delivering her finest singin in "Maig", a Catalan song by Eduardo Toldrá.

Baritone Carlton Ford sang the "Canto negro" by Xavier Montsalvatge with rapid-fire delivery and gusto. He has a dark-colored baritone, agile enough for patter songs, and he is good at acting with his eyes. Tenor Andrew Owens had several opportunities to display his fine lyric instrument, most notably in Fernando Sor's "Mis descuidados ojos" and Turina's "Al val de Fuente Ovejuna."

The formal program ended with a set of excerpts from the Zarzuela, the far-reaching genre of Spanish light opera that enjoyed a vogue in that country from 1800 up until the mid-20th century. These excerpts allowed the fine cast to both sing and act. Most notable was Mr. Ford in "Despiarte negro", a dramatic aria about a black man trapped on a slavers' ship, and the erotically charged duet "Caballero del alto plumero" sung by Mr. Owens and Ms. Winters.

The concert concluded with "El arreglito" (The Little Arrangement) by composer Sebastian Yradier. This duet is best known as the inspiration for "L'amour c'est un oiseaux rebelle", the Habañera from Bizet's Carmen.. As Mr. Blier explained, a desperate Georges Bizet, confronted by a difficult demanding lady before the Carmen premiere, appropriated "El arreglito" with new lyrics, thinking it an old folk tune. It wasn't--and a lawsuit settled the matter. This was a charming, passionate ensemble for the four singers, and the Cuban-flavored encore that followed served as salsa on the paella.

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