Alice Tully Hall
Claudio Monteverdi: From The Seventh Book of Madrigals and L'incoronazione di Poppea
Franz Schubert: Four Songs After Goethe
Gustav Mahler: Four Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Richard Strauss: Five Songs
Marjana Lipovsek (mezzo-soprano)
Anthony Spiri (piano)
That most pleasant of musical phenomena the Sunday afternoon song recital is a regular feature of the Alice Tully season. Marjana Lipovsek, the magnificent Waltraute of the Haitink Ring, presented an intelligent and emotive program today for her New York recital debut. Her voice is clear and strong and possesses a secure range of vocal power. I personally prefer lieder recitals by opera singers because they are so adept at acting with their voices and savvy about how to put over a character in a small vocal highlight. Ms. Lipovsek, after a section of the seventh book that Monteverdi called a "concerto for voice and instruments", fully framed two characters from the first great opera composer's last work. In Addio Roma she was the cast off Empress Octavia, forced to leave her homeland forever. In Oggi sara Poppea she magically transformed herself into the old crone Arnalta whose machinations have made her mistress the new Empress. Particularly poignant was Ms. Lipovsek's juxtaposition of her feelings about death: a welcome release for an old servant but a horrible tragedy for a lady. Well trained in this style she was able to make us feel the emotion of the character without any excesses of emotion in the voice, in fact her tone was quite suitably monotonous.
Perhaps this is quibbling but I like my Schubert lieder sung by a lighter voiced woman and prefer Lott to Schwarzkopf and Popp to Ludwig but I do recognize the appeal of the heavier voiced mezzo in these marvelous songs. Ms. Lipovsek is certainly a weighty mezzo and yet was able to sing these four Goethe songs (three from the interchange of poems with Marianne von Willemer) to my liking. The first of the two Suleika songs (D720) is the more famous and this rendition made me believe that this was indeed a passionate young girl. The fourth song of the set, Ganymed, was blissfully beautiful. Mr. Spiri played the piano parts extremely sensitively. These parts are not technically difficult (Schubert played most of them himself at performances and he was, to say the least, no virtuoso) but they are tricky to phrase properly and this pianist was in total command of the poetic language of these songs.
As if the Muses took pity on me for my disappointment in hearing a limp version of the Wunderhorn songs the other night with two young singers and the New York Philharmonic, Ms. Lipovsek sang four of these beauties for us today (I had known that there would be Mahler but didn't know what songs). Her version of Das Irdische Leben (Earthly Life), a song about the pleadings of child who dies of hunger, was infinitely more emotional than the wooden version from Inger Dam-Jensen and Colin Davis. Again Mr. Spiri stood out, as he played his dramatically insistent part, so reminiscent of Schubert's Erlkoenig, much more passionately than the orchestra did just recently. Ms. Lipovsek really soared in the poignant Wo Die Schoenen Trompeten Blasen (Where the Brave Trumpets Sound), a ballad of a soldier who must leave his love and will never return (actually Ms. Dam-Jensen was touching in this one as well) but faltered in her diction during the fast passages of Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (St. Anthony's Sermon to the Fishes) familiar to all as thematic material from Mahler's Resurrection Symphony. It was too bad that the singers from the Philharmonic concert could not have attended this recital. It would have been a good object lesson. Without the emotion there is no art.
Strauss is Ms. Lipovsek's favorite composer and she is especially good at conveying that rotting flowers atmosphere that was his trademark. She reminded me of Schwarzkopf in her version of Allerseelen (All Souls) and sank into the depths of the spiritual night for Ruhe, Meine Seele (Peace, My Soul) so close in spirit to the Four Last Songs that it is often performed with them even though it was written when Strauss was a young man. The longing of Caecilieand Heimliche Aufforderung (Secret Invitation) was felt by all and one got the sense that this was indeed the effect that Strauss was after. With Schwarzkopf gone, Ms. Lipovsek is certainly in the running to become her Strauss lieder successor.
Ms. Lipovsek is the daughter of the Slovenian composer Marjian Lipovsek and she took the opportunity in her encores to sing a folksong set by him. There were also another Strauss and two Brahms' songs: the very clever "Ring dialect" song in which she was able to play both the parts of the mother and the daughter (again you need an opera singer's sensibilities to make this work) and the ever popular Wiegenlied which she sang with high maternal poignancy. Finally, another gift from the Muses, my own personal favorite Schubert lied Heidenroslein was sung with enough lilt to bring a tear to my eye. It was a genuine shame that the small hall was only partially full, for this was a solid musical experience from a worthy practitioner of the singer's art.
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Frederick L. Kirshnit