Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Joyce DiDonato Salutes Environmentalist Consciousness Through the Ages

Although global warming persists as a threat to our survival, the World Economic Forum’s attempts to hijack environmentalism as a pretext for more lockdowns, surveillance and divide-and conquer schemes has sabotaged grassroots movements trying to restore climate stability. Our situation would be more dire if trees weren’t so resilient: they’re consuming more carbon dioxide than any 20th century doomsayers ever believed possible. Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato offers a commonsensical solution in the liner notes to her latest release, Eden, which isn’t online yet. “In this time of upheaval, which seed will you plant today?”

With the new album, she’s pulled together a playlist of eco-friendly songs and cautionary tales from over the centuries, backed lushly and verdantly by orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro, conducted from the harpsichord by Maxim Emelyanychev. Their eclectic collection makes a solid springboard for her signature blend of dynamism and subtlety.

They open with The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives, channeling a slowly drifting, organ-like rapture punctuated by moments of disquiet. DiDonato brings a vividly searching quality to Gene Scheer’s contemplation of the need to reconnect with our surroundings in the world premiere recording of Rachel Portman‘s First Morning of the World, the orchestra evoking wind in the trees with gentle, pastoral wave motion.

DiDonato follows with a matter-of-factly soaring rendition of Mahler’s Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (I Breathed a Gentle Fragrance) and then early 17th century Italian composer Biaggio Marini’s Con le stelle in Ciel che mai (rough translation: Have You Seen the Sun?), an energetically swaying art-folk dance of sorts featuring a starkly emphatic Dmitri Lepekhov violin solo.

A rare 18th century Josef Myslivecek aria has a lively Italian baroque bounce, in considerable contrast to its message of divine retribution, “sure destruction and bitter plagues.” Yikes! A blithe Aaron Copland setting of Emily Dickinson poetry is next.

Baroque composer Giovanni Valentini’s hazy, summery miniature, Sonata enharmonica makes a bridge to a sobering Francesco Cavalli aria from his opera La Callisto. “Does the god of thunder so mercilessly scorch the earth?? For sure. From there, the ensemble flurry through a bracing Gluck dance from the opera Orpheus and Euridice, DiDonato then parsing two increasingly agitated songs of gloom and heartbreak under “the cruelty of a wicked monarch.”

There are three Handel works here: a stately aria from the oratorio Theodora and two fond interludes from the opera Serse. celebrating the enduring beauty of plant life. By contrast, DiDonato pulls back with a lingering angst, “lost to the world,” in the second Mahler song: in its understated way, it packs the biggest punch on the album.  And in Agonies, by Wagner, she speaks directly to the horrors that might await if we don’t stop setting things onfire.

February 22, 2022 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, opera, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Breathtakingly Poignant, Emotionally Impactful Recital by Pianist Yoonie Han

Pianist Yoonie Han has a passion for the Romantic repertoire, and chops that make her ideally suited to play it. At her midtown Manhattan recital last night, she employed what seemed to be an effortlessly silken legato, evincing the most minute timbral and tonal shifts from the keys with a touch that she varied stunningly from muted and wounded, to an icepick incisiveness, depending on the demands of the music. The program featured material from her forthcoming Steinway album Love and Longing, a showcase for her meticulously lyrical, vividly cantabile approach.

Han’s fondness for Spanish culture and music informed her richly dynamic take of a solo piano arrangement of Granados’ El Amor y La Muerte, from his opera Goyescas. Its narrative is a love triangle that ends with a duel, the guy who got the short end of it dying in his lover’s arms. Han lit its red-light sections luridly in contrast to the tender lullaby theme she wound it down with: the effect was unselfconsciously breathtaking. She gave a similar, rubato-tinged restraint to the Melodie from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, then evoked the plaintiveness of a couple of famous Chopin and Rachmaninoff preludes via a bitterly glimmering take of the Schubert song Gute Nacht from the Franz Liszt solo piano arrangement of the Winterreise suite. Her approach was much the same with an arrangement of Liebestod, from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, as well as her encore, where she shifted to a somewhat more ebullient side of Schubert.

A new commissioned work, Theodore Wiprud‘s El Jaleo mingled otherworldly, starlit upper-register ripples with an insistent, flamenco-inflected lefthand drive echoing the night’s opening number. Han’s most adventurous – and arguably contentious – moments came during the Busoni arrangement of a Bach violin chaconne written following the death of the composer’s first wife. Han’s fluid rhythmic constancy dovetailed with the rest of the material…but then she decided to take it forward in time a few hundred years with rubato and dynamics that perhaps Busoni but probably not Bach would have envisioned. Thrilling? Absolutely, and the crowd loved it. An exercise in artistic license? That’s Han’s prerogative, she’s earned it. Better than the original? Debatable. Ironically, all the rapture, and suspense, and poignancy and longing that she brought out so memorably from the other material might also have shown itself a little more with this had she held back a little and let the broodingly elegant exchanges of voices speak for themselves. But that’s nitpicking.

May 21, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment