The New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) program at Merkin Concert Hall on March 13, billed as “From Lute Songs to the Beatles: Songs of the British Isles,” featured a fine quartet of Caramoor 2018 Terrance W. Schwab Vocal Rising Starssoprano Madison Leonard, mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker, tenor Matthew Pearce, and baritone Greg Feldmannas well as Adam Rothenberg, sharing pianistic duties with NYFOS Artistic Director Steven Blier. Mo Zhou was the stage director and Kate McGonigle, the language and diction coach.
Leonard and Decker, assisted by Rothenberg, welcomed us by harmonizing on a gorgeous coloratura “Sound the Trumpet,” by Henry Purcell, to Nahum Tate’s poem. Feldmann and Blier followed up with Thomas Campion’s “Beauty, Since You So Much Desire,” essentially delicate, but swelling toward the end. Feldmann assisted in the spoken dialogue preceding Leonard’s wide-ranging, florid “Be Mine, Tender Passion”a “Haunted Tower” aria, akin to one of Fiordiligi’s in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s “Così fan tutte”with music by Stephen Storacebrother of Nancy Storace, creator of the role of Susanna in Mozart and DaPonte’s “Le Nozze di Figaro”and words by James Cobb. For this last, Blier and Rothenberg shared a single Steinway. Decker’s gently ornamented, Classically-shaped “Think Not, My Love, When Secret Grief,” with Blier, by Thomas Linley, sounded somewhat Mozartian as well.
Feldmann and Leonard, assisted by Blier, joined voices for lilting duet-with-dance “If We’re Weak Enough to Tarry,” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe,” preceded by the dialogue in which Strephon explained his fairy ancestry to Phyllis. Decker, with Rothenberg, gave us a poignant account of Sir Edward Elgar’s “Where Corals Lie,” with poem by Richard Garnett, from the song cycle “Sea Pictures,” first sung by Dame Clara Butt. Pearce and Leonard loved and parted in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ quietly rocking arrangement of “Rolling in the Dew,” with Blier at the piano. Assisted by Rothenberg, Pearce lent his dark-timbred lyric tenor to a dramatic “No Longer Mourn for Me,” a William Shakespeare sonnet, written to a young male love, set by C. Hubert H. Parry, whose popular hymns are still being sung. Feldmann and Blier offered a dulcet Romantic “My Own Country,” by Peter Warlock, to Hilaire Belloc’s poetry. The singers blended voices in a mellifluous a cappella Renaissance madrigal-like “Come live with me (and be my love),” William Sterndale Bennett’s setting of Christopher Marlowe’s words.
Feldmann and Rothenberg continued with an exuberant, then briefly pensive “It Was a Lover and His Lass,” a setting of Shakespeare, by Gerald Finzi, from “Let Us Garlands Bring.” Decker and Blier proceeded to a quiet, mystical, and folk-like “Song to the Seals,” by Granville Bantock and Harold Boulton. Songs of Frank Bridge, Benjamin Britten’s teacher, were Pearce and Rothenberg’s “Goldenhair,” a setting of James Joyce, also rather mystical, and Leonard’s rhapsodic and lust-filled “Dweller in My Deathless Dreams,” to Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry, with Rothenberg delivering a virtuoso account of the intricate piano part. Pearce and Rothenberg followed this with a restrained, if louche, “Midnight on the Great Western,” from Britten’s “Winter Words,” using Thomas Hardy’s text about “The Journeying Boy,” traveling alone on a train, “surrounded by unsavory characters,” said Blier, to whom he is oblivious.
Feldmann offered a heartfelt, sometimes expansive “Between Your Sheets,” from “Five Am’rous Sighs,” with neo-Romantic music by Jonathan Dove and text by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, an erotic poem, Blier pointed out, “written by a woman to another woman.” Lindamira. Before singing Huw Watkins’ “At Last the Secret is Out,” with Rothenberg, with all mysteries revealed, Leonard read W.H. Auden’s poem. Peace and Feldmann harmonized easily on Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Ticket to Ride,” with Blier, without sounding like opera singers self-consciously tackling rock. Leonard and Decker, playing tambourines, assisted. Decker, with Blier, sang John Dankworth’s jazzy, bluesy setting, written for Cleo Laine, of Shakespeare’s sonnet “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day.” The quartet, with Blier, concluded with Noël Coward’s “Alice Is at It Again,” held back and then wild, about a young lady’s curious adventure in the lane. At one point, Alice (Decker) chased Rothenberg into the wings and the underwearAdam’sflew. The company’s encore, with Blier and Rothenberg at one Steinway, was Dankworth’s “Dunsinane Blues,” a blithe retelling of the story of “Macbeth.”
NYFOS celebrates its 30 years of exploring song with “30!,” its spring gala at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall on March 26, with Tyne Daly, Mary Testa, Theo Hoffman, Gabriel Ebert, and Mikaela Bennett, in songs by the Gershwins, Stephen Sondheim, Flaherty and Ahrens, and others, followed by dinner in the Plaza Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, and “A 30th Anniversary Celebration,” at Merkin on April 24, with Julia Bullock, Antonina Chehovska, Lauren Worsham, Paul Appleby, John Brancy, William Sharp, and others. Visit www.nyfos.org
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