I went to this recital at Zankel Hall (the medium-sized concert hall at Carnegie Hall) on 2/22.  I’m not sure that I had heard pianist Richard Goode before, but I was there mostly to hear soprano Sarah Shafer.  I heard her at the Voices of Ascension gala last fall, she sang the solo in the Poulenc *Gloria* and blew me away.

 

The programming was fascinating - - Brahms and Schumann, alternating between the two.  They opened with a set of Brahms songs immediately followed (no break for applause) by a set of Schumann songs, then a Schumann piano trio, then a set of Schumann songs immediately followed by a set of Brahms songs.  And then a Brahms piano quartet on the second half.  This was the full program:

 

Brahms: “Meine Liebe ist grün”, “Lerchengesang”, “Mädchenlied”

Schumann: “Des Sennen Abschied”, “Intermezzo” from *Liederkreis*, “Der Sandmann”, “Aufträge”

 

Schumann: piano trio #2, F major, opus 80

 

Schumann: “Kommen und Scheiden”, “Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden”, “Heiß mich nicht redden”

Brahms: “Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht”, “Wir wandelten”, “Botschaft”

 

Intermission

 

Brahms: piano quartet #2, A major, opus 26

 

Shafer is quite young, still in her 20s.  Her voice and her sweet, china doll appearance have the bloom of youth, which is always appealing, don’t you find?  I was surprised at what a serious, mature artist she is.  I don’t know of too many 20-something sopranos who can pull of a Brahms song that opens with the line “Death is like a cool night”, but she sure did.

 

She reminded me of Barbara Bonney (a great American soprano from the 90s), but Shafer’s voice is riper.  She has the perfect voice and affect for German music.  She would be an ideal Pamina, it would be worth sitting through a performance of *The Magic Flute* to hear her in that role.  She would excel in all of the other Mozart and Strauss sweet young thing roles, she could easily move into the more grown-up tier of roles in those same operas when she gets a little older, and it’s not out of the question that she could one day sing some lighter Wagner roles.  In the right opera house with the right conductor.  If Lucia Popp could sing Elsa, Shafer sure can - - someday.

 

Goode played everything with complete artistry and authority and an effortless sense of the style.  He played with great taste - - for example, he never held the final chord of a song too long.  He was always generous but never indulgent.  And his collaboration with Shafer was simpatico, it’s always a pleasure to hear artists really making music together.

 

The Schumann trio was played by Goode, violinist Itamar Zorman, and cellist Brook Speltz.  It was beautiful music played with great skill, but who the hell cares?  I don’t expect it to be endlessly novel, but I do expect the music to sustain my interest.  This piece was a thumping bore.  There’s a great Schumann piano quintet, I wish they had played that instead.

 

I was so let down by the Schumann trio, I considered leaving at the intermission and going straight home to watch the Oscars red carpet arrivals on E!.  I’m so glad I didn’t, because the Brahms was incredible.  So much more rhythmic, harmonic, and textural variety.  The Schumann trio, in comparison sounded like this: blah blah blah blah blah.

 

Brahms knows how to construct chamber music to give it the most expressive power, and a big part is varying the texture.  He has the piano playing the melody and the three strings playing accompaniment - - then the violin takes over the lead, with the piano playing accompaniment and the cello playing a bass line, pizzicato - - then the three strings playing alone - - etc, etc.  Continually stimulating, and just plain beautiful music.  The violist, by the way, was Kyle Armbrust.  Two thirds of the way through the first movement the strings had an arching, aching phrase that literally took my breath away.  That kind of thing doesn’t even happen once a year.

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