Schubert & Co. Soldiers Onward

On Sunday night (January 27), as most of the art-song community was packed into Carnegie Hall to hear a joint recital by the reigning divas of the moment – Renee Fleming and Susan Graham – I was at Central Presbyterian Church to hear the latest installment of Schubert & Co.’s audacious journey through all the lieder of Franz Schubert, allegedly the first time any concert series in New York has attempted to accomplish this feat in a single concert season.  (Ironically, a work colleague offered me a ticket to the Fleming-Graham recital, which I turned down because I intended to be at Schubert & Co’s presentation.)

It turned out that my presence was very much needed.  There were about fifteen people present, including the two pianists – Lachlan Glen and Jonathan Ware, the five singers — sopranos Devon Guthrie and Mary Feminear, countertenor John Holiday, baritone Benjamin Bloomfield, and bass-baritone Tyler Simpson — and then we fearless few who were merely listeners.  But the concert wouldn’t exist without the listeners, and I’m glad I was there because IT WAS A TERRIFIC RECITAL!  The singers and pianists put on their game faces and gave their all, even though there were few of us to hear it.  They sang and played with feeling and passion, and we hear a marvelous selection of Schubert songs to texts by Goethe and several of his contemporaries.  Most of this Sunday’s songs were relatively obscure, not among the dozen or so that pop up frequently at song recitals, although a handful were familiar to me: Der Fischer, Ganymed, Ihr Grab, mainly from among the later songs.  But everything was worth hearing, including a handful of very early songs from Schubert’s teen years. Hearing the mix of songs from different periods of the composer’s life helps to put everything in perspective. 

And, of course, there are the discoveries.  I’m a particular fan of the male soprano (sometimes called countertenor) voice, and I was really impressed by John Holiday’s high, clear expressive soprano voice.  (One rarely hears countertenors singing Schubert, since they tend to focus on the 17-18th century repertory originally intended for castrati, and the participation of castrati in concert life had pretty much died out by the early 19th century in Vienna, so I suspect Schubert would have been amused to hear a man singing one his songs in the soprano range.)  I was also impressed by the very dramatic singing of Tyler Simpson, and  – especially in the final set – by Benjamin Bloomfield, whose rather restrained approach to his first song didn’t prepare me for the depth of his final ones.  Sopranos Guthrie and Feminear were also pleasing to hear.  One of the great pleasures of this series is being introduced to so many fine young singers.

Both pianists are accomplished lieder collaborators, although they have very different styles of playing.  Jonathan Ware has a gentle touch on the keyboard that produces a very rounded sound, quite beautiful, while Lachlan Glen’s touch is more aggressive, producing a bit of a harder edge and wider dynamic range.  It would be really interesting to hear the same song rendered by the same singer accompanied by each of these pianists in turn, just to judge how much of my impression is influenced by the very different styles of pianism

And the price is right: Free.  Check out the Schubert & Co. website for their remaining concert schedule.  I won’t be able to make it to all of them – in fact, I have to miss quite a few due to out-of-town commitments and concert conflicts – but I highly recommend the series.

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