Saturday, November 12, 2005

Barbara Bonney and friends

Barbara Bonney is an exemplary recitalist: a great musical and communicative talent, sharpened over her long career. Maybe it was disappointment, then, that produced last night's empty seats. Instead of a solo recital, Bonney shared the stage with young colleagues, singing a confusingly-advertised program covering three Mozarts. It was, however, a very enjoyable success. I encourage those who can make the Sunday repeat to go.

The program had five main sections, in this order:
  • A set of early Mozart songs, K147-152, which includes three by his father Leopold.

  • A set of his son Franz Xaver Mozart's songs, ending in an ensemble piece for three singers.

  • A set of Mozart's ensemble pieces for three and four voices plus accompaniment.

  • Five of Mozart's famous later songs (Der Zauberer, Die Zufriedenheit, Das Lied der Trennung, Als Luise die Briefe..., Abendempfindung).

  • Another set of Mozart's (later) multi-voice pieces, finishing with the very cute "Das Bandel".
A five-singer version of Mozart and Schikaneder's cat duet (from Der Stein der Weisen), with all the women as cats, was the delicious encore.

Solo songs were alternated between all of the singers, except three of Franz Xaver's (his op. 27), taken together by Bonney herself. This format was a bit dangerous, perhaps as likely to show up the young unknowns as to show them off. But all were pretty good.

Canadian soprano Shannon Mercer, the find of the evening, came off best. It's not hard to see why Bonney picked her -- the light but pointed lyric voice, quick and wide-ranging expressiveness, musical intelligence, and stage presence surely reminded her of herself. Mercer's account of the much-sung "Abendempfindung" was as touching and well-shaped as any I've heard.

The others came off well, but seemed expressively restricted next to the sopranos. Local mezzo Isabel Leonard is a real beauty, with a not-quite-finished-sounding instrument to (almost) match, but quite reserved (at least in this setting). Canadian tenor Colin Balzer has a pleasant light sound and a real lieder-singing career already, but I found his fastidious interpretations to be within too narrow a compass. Perhaps he'd show better in a solo context. Meanwhile Canadian baritone (notice a trend here?) Joshua Hopkins may have the best instrument of all, though he held it back a bit more than I'd like in ensembles.

The unfamiliar music, too, was worth hearing. Franz Xavier Mozart wrote proto-Schubertian early Romantic lieder to more conventional texts. There's definitely a strain of real feeling for a good singer to bring out. (Bonney has an entire disc of his stuff which I've not heard.) And his father's vocal ensembles are pure characteristic gold, at times hinting of the operas though with rather less dramatic charge. It may, unfortunately, be a while -- after Sunday -- before they're done here together again.

Leonard, incidentally, has a Horne Foundation recital on December 4. But will Shannon Mercer go back to Canada and the early-music scene, never to be seen in New York again? I certainly hope not.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with you about Shannon Mercer. While a lovely voice, I didn't exactly deem her to be the find of the evening. I do, however, think Ms. Leonard is destined to be quite the store. She's got Ms. Horne's backing as well as that of a rather largely renowned handler...quite impressive for someone so young. I look forward to her further development.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.