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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Concert Review: The Moon in Your Pocket

A Tribute to Glen Roven at Spectrum.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The conjuror: composer Glen Roven's songs
were celebrated at Spectrum on Thursday night.
The evolution of the modern classical art song did not start in the concert or recital hall. No, the preferred performance venue was at the liederabend ("song evening"), a small-scale, informal salon performance with a singer, a pianist and the music of Schubert, Schumann or later, Brahms and Hugo Wolf. On Thursday night, the New York New Music Collective celebrated a modern song-master, Glen Roven with a program featuring world premieres of two song cycles by the Brooklyn-born composer.

The concert opened with the world premiere of Six Ancient Chinese Songs, sung by soprano Laura Strickling. Mr. Roven's setting of English translations (by Jane Hirshfield) recalled Mahler's own Chinese settings (of entirely different songs) that were eventually immortalized as Das Lied von der Erde. The first of these, Late Indian Summer was potent and moving with a searching, upward melody. It dovetailed with the emotive Black Hair, the two songs seeming to form one cohesive unit. Meditating by Moonlight had a serene character, with Ms. Strickling unearthing the emotional core in the words.

I've come to the house of the Immortals and Cut Brambles Long Enough are both from the poetry of Sun Buer, and were played as a one-two slow-fast pairing--with the shorter second song being one of the most effective.  The set ended with the pensive The Sky, with a soaring vocal  line that evoked a journey into the next world. Ms. Strickland's plush, powerful voice resonated in the small space, a converted loft apartment lined with books and CDs that leant the evening its intimate feel.

Six male singers took the little space in front of the piano next for Songs to Make a Grown Man Cry, a setting of texts by a wide array of poets from Shakespeare to Charles Bukowski. There were three tenors, (Glenn Seven Allen, Andrew Fuchs and Tommy Wazelle) two baritones (Jonathan Hare and Jarrett Ott) and an imposing bass (Keith Kellogg). Their voices were deployed in a wide variety of combinations, from solos for tenor and bass to duets, quartets and in the finale, a sextet for all the singers.

Mr. Roven employed a catholic approach to these modern lieder using barbershop, jazz, tone-rows and more traditional singing styles. Highlights of the massive sixteen-song cycle included Mr. Allen's emotional reading of Johnson's On My First Son (the song that came closest to the cycle's stated aim for this writer) and Mr. Kellogg's imposing, darkly humorous take on Bukowski's Eulogy to a Hell of a Dame. Michael Brofman proved an adaptable accompanist, shifting styles as the  songs changed in content and tone.

Mr. Ott, a round-voiced and Mr Fuchs, a very high tenor, were compelling, paired in The Wind One Brilliant Day. Mr. Wazelle bared raw economic pain and despair in Kenneth H. Ashley's Out of Work and Mr. Hare filled out the quartet in God's World and the setting of Shakespeare's Sonnet XXX (When to the sessions of sweet silent thought) that ended the sequence. For this final song, Mr. Allen entered last, his keen-edged tenor amplifying and supplanting the vocal ensemble, putting a harmonious tone to this troubled text.

Next up was treble singer and Juilliard student Benjamin Wenzelberg, who gained fame in his appearances as Milo in two productions of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw, the first with Mr. Allen as Peter Quint. Mr. Wenzelberg sang the brief In the Orchard With Dad. This charming little song tested his high range as his voice is close to maturing into something quite different. Finally, mezzo Isabel Leobard took the little stage for Mr. Roven's most famous song, a lush and fluid setting of the children's book Goodnight Moon. Mr. Roven took the piano bench for this last song as Ms. Leonard took this magical little book and transformed it into something quite different, but just as full of wonder and delight.

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