March 30, 2008 - I hate to admit it but the last time I was at Town Hall was in 1969 for a recital by soprano Lilian Sukis. My opportunity to re-visit the famous auditorium came today when my dear friend Randall Scarlata invited me to his joint recital with soprano Hyunah Yu and pianist Ken Noda. Randy, who I met nearly a decade ago when he was at Juilliard, now lives in Philadelphia and we have been sort of out-of-touch for a while but Facebook has recently provided the remedy. It was great to see and hear him again this afternoon.
The afternoon was part of the People's Symphony Concert series which started in 1900 as a way of bringing classical music to a large audience at affordable prices. Their website may be found here.
The recital today was especially inviting:
PURCELL: Songs including 'Sound the Trumpet' and 'Lost is My Quiet'
SCHUMANN: Six Early Songs
MENDELSSOHN: Songs including 'Gruß', 'Abendlied' and 'Herbstlied'
MAHLER: Four Songs from Des Knabenwunderhorn
WOLF: Songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch
The programme was mainly a German lieder-fest which is Randy's specialty, and Ms. Yu proved equally at home in the repertoire, though they started with a Purcell set. Purcell's music is so clean - that's the best way to describe it. The opening duet, "Sound The Trumpet" with its cascades of fiorature set a mood of joyous music-making as the two singers reveled in the ease and clarity of their vocal delivery. The Town Hall acoustic is wonderfully immediate and both Hyunah and Randy were able to show off their attractively contrasted timbres without ever having to resort to pushing or distortion. Randy's smooth, warm and mellow tone ideally compliments Hyunah's silvery softness. They further harmonized to lovely effect in the melancholy "Lost is My Quiet" and then sailed heartily thru "Come, let us Leave the Town" from THE FAIRY QUEEN.
Hyunah, her pretty face and petite figure superbly set off by her gem-strewn pale olive-green top and black trousers, introduced a really entrancing set of songs from the youthful works of Robert Schumann. Composed by Schumann while still in his teens, the songs tell of the aspects of young love. I try not to use the word 'ravishing' when describing a voice but nothing else quite suits Ms. Yu's delicious quality - the shimmering sound and hints of rapture in the words - which at various points in the afternoon put me in mind of the best qualities of Hei-Kyung Hong, Kathleen Battle, Barbara Bonney and Reri Grist.
Mendelssohn duets followed in which both singers treated us to impeccable harmonies and finely tapered vocal lines which Ken Noda underlined with his refined and very expressive playing. Again I was struck by the acoustic perfection of the hall and the way Ken (Christian Steiner photo) was able to make the piano 'speak' with many colourful nuances woven around the voices. Hyunah's delicacy of expression blended with Randy's velvety tone making these duets especially appealing and in fact the set was over seemingly way too quickly.
Randy Scarlata is a profoundly satisfying Mahler singer; he had a lot of fun with "Rhinelegendchen' before moving into the two central songs, "Wo die schonen Trompeten Blasen" and "Revelge" which are almost operatic in scope. These two pieces seemed especially poignant today in their depictions of the sadness and the horror of wartime experiences since in the past week we have had brutal reminders of the fact that we live in a time of war even though it is taking place far away. Randy's dramatic treatment was emphasized by Ken's playing which reached a peak of intensity in the grim rhythmic figures of "Revelge".
The 'Urlicht' has a special meaning for Randy and me and I had to admire his courage in offering it today because I think it took all of his discipline as an artist to avoid breaking down emotionally. His interpretation was intrinsically beautiful and the silence in the hall at the end was profound. I could tell Randy was deeply moved.*
The recital ended with an entertaining set of songs from Wolf's ITALIAN LIEDERBOOK which Hyunah and Randy treated as a mini-drama. They traded solos, each observing the other's performance, before joining in a duet. Buy Hyunah got the last word with her lively "Ich hab'in Penna". They then sang a flirtatious "La ci darem la mano" from DON GIOVANNI as an encore.
Hyunah's was a new voice for me and I'll look forward to hearing her again. I found that Randy, who has always been a very good singer, seems - if it could be possible - to have improved on his own high level of excellence both in the sheer beauty of his sound and his compelling mastery of dynamics; his word-painting too gives the impression of complete naturalness.
I always like to hear what other audience members have to say about singers, especially those singers I know as friends - since I don't want to think I'm unduly generous in praising them. After the first half, the woman in front of squinted at her playbill, then turned to her companion and said, "Randall Scarlata?! Now why isn't HE at the Met? He's better than anyone they have there." I agree whole-heartedly.
It was great catching up with Randy briefly backstage and to meet the delightful Hyunah Yu; Randy's mother was there and so was Ken Noda's. Ken and I talked about the acoustic perfection of Town Hall and how wonderful it would be to have a lieder or vocal-chamber-music recital series there. Hyunah and Randy both have interesting repertoire out on CD (Randy joins the American String Quartet on the Danielpour disc). I found them both at Amazon.
*Here is the text, in German and English, of Mahler's 'Urlicht' the song from DAS KNABEN WUNDERHORN that is also used as a contralto solo in Mahler's 2nd Symphony:
O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Not!
Der Mensch liegt in größter Pein!
Je lieber möcht ich im Himmel sein!
Da kamm ich auf einer breiten Weg;
Da kam ein Engelein und wollt mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leuchten mir bis an das ewig selig Leben!
An English translation by Lionel Salter follows:
O red rose!
Man lies in direst need!
Man lies in deepest pain!
I would be rather in heaven!
I came upon a broad path:
and angel came and sought to turn me back.
Ah no! I would not be sent away!
I am from God, and to God I will return!
Dear God will give me light,
will lead me to eternal, blessed life.