Alban Berg: Sieven Frühe Lieder
George Crumb: Apparition
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabi: Movement KSS52
Du Yun: "I must survive" from Women: The war within
One of the most valuable advantages of living in New York City for any art lover is the constant flow and never-ending variety of cultural offerings. A case in point would be the two concerts I attended last weekend, a dazzling classical feast in the cool but established Upper West Side on Friday night and a confidently avant-garde recital in the barely gritty these days East Village on Sunday afternoon.
Featuring long-time partners-in-music soprano Ariadne Greif and pianist Jason Wirth, whose eclectic resumes only equal their wide-ranging skills, the performance was also an opportunity to spend some quality time in Greenwich Village ‒ and music-filled Washington Square ‒ on a sunny Sunday afternoon before heading off to the East and the Episcopalian St Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, where I would not only get to enjoy a tight one-hour program of intriguing works, but also catch up with a few adventurous-minded friends.
I have been never overly familiar with Alban Berg's œuvre, but I have certainly gained a new appreciation of it lately as, after witnessing his violin concerto receive the royal treatment from Anne-Sophie Mutter on Tuesday, I got to happily bask in his stunning set of "Seven Early Songs" on Sunday. Although they were written when he was still a student of Schoenberg's, they achieve the double feat of showing an already remarkably mature sense of balance and meticulousness while still allowing their opulent Romanticism to gloriously bloom. Ariadne Greif’s lush, powerful voice gorgeously illuminated the unabashedly poetic evocations of some of nature's many wonders while Jason Wirth readily provided understated but pitch-perfect accompaniment.
Inspired by Walt Whitman's "When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd", which the poet wrote after the death of Abraham Lincoln, tireless sound explorer George Crumb was prompted to create the cycle of songs and vocalises Apparition for soprano and amplified piano. The performance, which was essentially a profound meditation on life and death, was compelling for its unusual sounds, such as piano chord plucking and bird-like singing, and no less unusual arrangements, like silent being used in a most effective way. The effortless chemistry between Ariadne Greif's exquisitely expressive singing and Jason Wirth's endlessly adaptable playing vastly contributed to making the complex work organically flow and slowly turn into a fascinating experience.
Then we moved on to English composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabi, one of the most prolific piano composers of the 20th century, and a delightful short piece of his, Movement KSS52, during which Greif positively proved that she was as talented at whistling a nonchalantly hypnotic hymn as she was at singing gripping emotional turmoil. Wirth was the indispensable instrumental playmate that reliably helped her weave their subtle and intricate tapestry à deux. Dedicated to "Mumsie", the lovely song was also an early Mother's Day gift to Greif's mother, who had flown in just for that very special treat, and all the other mothers around the world as well.
We were back to more drama with the last number on the program, Du Yun's "I must survive" from Women: The war within, her dance-theater opera from last year. The short excerpt presented on Sunday had Cleopatra come to realize that she had to kill her brother/husband Ptolemy. Definitely a prickly situation to be in, but it did not long for our girl to get over her misgivings and superbly roar on.
She can sing, he can play, she can whistle, but can they yodel? Yes, they can! That’s what we all came to realize when Greif came back decked with a splendid crown made of real flowers for some priceless yodeling while merrily working her way through The Sound of Music's "The Lonely Goatherd", with even Wirth joining in for a little yodeling fun of his own. From the ground-breaking Second Viennese School to endearing Broadway silliness, there is clearly nothing they cannot handle.