Nick and I heard soprano Barbara Hannigan in recital with pianist Reinbert de Leeuw at the Park Avenue Armory on 11/16/17. Nick is a dear friend from college - - he started as a friend of my brother Patrick, and then became a better friend of mine. I uncharitably refer to this as "a free upgrade." And Patrick still talks with me, can you imagine? Nick has lived in Orlando for a few years and is moving to NYC next month, hooray! So this was the first of what I hope will be many cultural events that we'll share.
I had never heard of the soprano when I bought the tickets, but was drawn in by the program: Schönberg, Webern, Berg, Zemlinsky, Alma Mahler, and Wolf. Oh yes! Please! I've listed the full program at the bottom of this review. FYI Richard and I heard a recital in this same room at the Armory in March, by English mezzo Sarah Connolly. She played Gertrude in a new opera of *Hamlet* this summer, and Hannigan was Ophelia. Coincidence?
The music itself was the star of the show, which says a lot for the performers, don't you think? The Schönberg was my favorite, it was very early Schönberg and sounded more like Debussy. That was a surprise. The Zemlinsky songs were Nick's favorite, he felt like the melodies were more linear, less fragmented.
The Schönberg, Webern, and Berg were all from early in their careers, and were an interesting progression in tonality (aka the sense of the music built around specific key relationships). Schönberg walked along the line, sometimes tonal, sometimes toyed with atonality. The Berg song cycle had some songs that were traditional in their tonality, others that stretched the limits a bit more. And the Webern - - it was like he he was standing ten feet away from tonality and reaching towards it. Longingly.
I was impressed with Hannigan, she has a lovely voice, has a deep feeling for the text, and sings with a wide range of colors. Nick noticed that she was expressive in her use of vibrato, sometimes singing with a straight tone to convey a certain something in the song. This can be coy or gimmicky, but it was always just right when she did it. Her pianist played beautifully, and they clearly are gemütlich in their collaboration, they were always completely unified in their vision of the music. Maybe the pianist was a little too reticent, a little too polite. I would ideally want a little more presence. I'd love to hear what Malcolm Martineau would do with this rep. Wow.
She wore a gorgeous silk gown, it might have been taffeta, with a filmy organza piece hanging off one side. Sleeveless, with an asymmetrical neckline. Nick and I had a discussion about the color of the gown.
ME: I think I'd describe that color as black cherry.
NICK: I'd call it chocolate.
ME: Hm, really? I see it as purple.
NICK: I see it as brown.
NICK: How about plum?
ME: That's good!
NICK: Or ripe fig?
ME: That's even better!
She was a little strange in her manner. Her drama seemed to be put on, rather than innate or sincere. A manufactured drama. Nick and I talked this through, too, and he put a finer point on it - - to him, her facial expressions seemed to indicate that she was pooping. On a low fiber day.
The biggest shocker of the concert is they did NOT do an encore! The audience was coo coo nutty for them, screamed and hollered even in the first half, and brought them back for three separate bows at the end, but they did NOT do an encore. Have you ever heard of such a thing.
There were a couple of celebrities in the audience, always nice to see them. French actor Mathieu Amalric, who you might know from *The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,* *Venus In Fur,* *The Grand Budapest Hotel,* or *Quantum of Solace.* And that priceless diva of yesteryear, the one and only Catherine Malfitano. This is the third time I've seen her at a concert, and has a very strange manner. On the one hand, she stands there like she's waiting for people to come up to her, talk to her, fawn on her. On the other hand, it feels like she's put up her forcefield. Girl, you gotta make choices.
* * *
Vier Lieder, op. 2
"Erwartung," "Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm," "Erhebung," "Waldsonne"
Fünf Lieder nach Gedicthe von Richard Dehmel
"Ideale Landschaft," "Am Ufer," Himmelfahrt," "Nächtliche Scheu," "Helle Nacht"
Sieben frühe Lieder
"Nacht," "Schifflied," "Die Nachtigall," "Traumgekrönt," "Im Zimmer," "Liebesode," "Sommertage"
“Empfängnis,” “Frülingstag,” “Tiefe Sehnsucht,” “Schlaf nur ein,” “Da waren zwei Kinder,” “Entbietung,” “Irmlein Rose”
"Die stille Stadt," "Laue Sommernacht," "Ich wandle unter Blumen," "Licht in der Nacht"
"Heiss mich nicht reden," "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt," "So lass mich scheinen," "Kennst du das Land"
Here's a video of Hannigan singing the Wolf, Alexandre Tharaud at the piano: