Around the World in Song Review: February 2020 Performance
A Fantastic Group of International Artists Deliver Unique Musical JourneyBy Logan Martell
On February 28, 2020, a globe-spanning roster of artists came together in St. John’s in the Village for an evening of cultural songs, presented by Meche Kroop of Voce di Meche. A firm supporter of the performing arts, Kroop encourages emerging artists through performance reviews as well as sponsoring prizes in vocal competitions with organizations such as NYIOP and the George London Foundation.
The evening’s concert, fittingly titled “Around the World in Song,” saw a diverse program, with each artist drawing on selections from in their respective languages. Kroop opened with a few words on her inspiration behind the nascent concert series, which aims to bridge the gaps between cultures by sharing the musical heirlooms of their respective nations. Accompanying many of the artists was pianist and Eurasia Festival President Aza Sydykov, who also served as music director for the concert.
Starting off the program was soprano Maria Brea, singing six selections from Venezuela; accompanying her was Pablo Zinger who arranged three of pieces. Brea opened with an a capella rendition of “Duermete mi nino,” a lullaby which shares the same music as the country’s national anthem. Her warm tones were nicely balanced in the church’s intimate but resonant space.
Her next song, Frederico Ruiz’s “Quiero Sombra,” saw Brea joined by Zinger’s lively accompaniment, as she transitioned to a lyrical section which slowly boiled with passion.
Following this was Antonio Estevez’s “Arrunango,” where her flexible, higher colors and relishing expression were strongly contrasted by Zinger’s firm, almost somber chords.
Her fourth song, Pablo Camararo’s “La Negra Atilia” seemed to reverse this idea of contrast, with Zinger’s energetic, repeating figures underscoring Brea’s calmer allure, a quality which dyed her lower, sustained closing.
Next was “Desesperanza” by Maria Luisa Escobar. Zinger’s lush, rolling opening was taken up by Brea’s affectionate, delivery; her inward-directed bearing helped reinforce a sense of vulnerability as she outlined the phrases of aching separation from a loved one.
Her last song, “Alma llanera” by Pedro Elias Gutierrez, closed her set with exuberance from Zinger and Brea, her lovely outpouring capped by a soaring high C conclusion.
Next on the program was Pallavi Seth, performing two pieces of sacred music from India.
The first, known as a Hori, is described as a praise to Krishna; Set explained that it is sung in villages throughout India around the time of Holi, their spring festival of colors.
“The second,” continued Seth, “is based on the ‘Raag Khamaj. It’s a very heavy, Zen-like raga, which is the very first raga I learned in my life.” For these pieces, traditionally performed sitting on the floor, Seth was self-accompanied by a Tanpura, which created a distinct drone over which she sang. Seth’s voice carried with a light, youthful timbre, able to elegantly deliver ornaments or pivot to an airy crescendo. While the music itself held little variation due to its deliberately fixed nature, Seth’s expressive, prayerful tones rang with an evocative quality which gently held one’s attention.
Following this was soprano Claire de Monteil, singing three selections in her native French, and accompanied by Sydykov.
First was “Youkali” from German composer Kurt Weill, where the exploring imagery was joined by a warm flair from the accompaniment. In outlining the beauty of the titular land, Monteil employed not only captivated fortes, easily able to fill the venue’s air with her sound, but huskier tones which conveyed intrigue as well as enticement.
Her second selection was “Je ne t’aime pas,” also by Weill, described by Monteil as being about the complexity of love, expressed by a woman convincing herself that she is not in love. The mournful qualities of the piece continued as Monteil’s grief saw expression through soft pleading, soaring phrases, and languid, conversational lines.
For her third number, Monteil sang Joseph Kosma’s “Les feuilles mortes,” treating the well-known jazz standard with a reflective tenderness. While most of this number carried with a lovely ease, there was a later fortissimo from Monteil that, while nicely delivered, was rather jarring in its suddenness. However, this was later balanced out by her soft, almost hushed conclusion.
The next artist was bass Kofi Hayford, with two selections from Ghana.
“The first piece,” began Hayford, “is the national anthem of Ghana. It’s quite special to me because it was written by my great granduncle. The words were recently updated, I think in the 70s, years after a competition was held to rewrite the text to this beautiful anthem. This is ‘God Bless Our Homeland Ghana,’ and it’s written by Victor Gbeho.”
The stately chords of the opening were matched by Hayford’s strong vocal warmth, bolstered by a crisp diction, that carried full and clear through this shorter number.
“The next piece,” continued Hayford, “is very interesting; it’s sort of an unofficial anthem of Ghana. It’s sung in the language Akwapim Twi, and is one of eleven languages in Ghana. This is called ‘Yen Ara Asaase Ni’ which translates to ‘This is our native land.’”
Sung a capella, Hayford employed a lighter texture through the distinctive, syncopated rhythm of the piece. Only a few stanzas long, the text related the preciousness of their national heritage, and the role of the spirit of the people in preserving it.
Opening the second half of the program was tenor Cesar Parreno, singing songs from Ecuador. Parreno gave a little background into the selections, describing them as folk songs in 3/4 time which are traditionally done on guitar at parties. Through these songs, Parreno displayed remarkably sweet tones that did not lack for passion.
This ardent quality translated well to the third song “Guataquileno, Madera de Guerrero” by Carlos Rubira Infante. Here, the lighter rhythm highlighted Perreno’s warmly-cresting pride, delivered with an upbeat bearing. These feelings came together for his last song “Despedida” by Gerardo Guevara, which Perrano described as being about saying goodbye. The airier accompaniment followed along with Perrano’s phrases into a more thoughtful atmosphere while retaining hints of earlier vivacity.
Next on the program was soprano Alvard Mayilyan, with four songs from Armenia. Three of these songs, Mayilyan explained, were love songs. The first, “To Him” by Hambarzum Perperian, was described as relating the feelings of a young woman sadly pining away over her distant lover; this was conveyed musically through the accompaniment’s melodic circling and lower chords. While Mayilyan’s phrases carried sufficient heartache, the sliver of hope added further nuance to this piece.
This was quickly contrasted by her second song, “Hoy Nazan” by Komitas, where the lover’s return is happily anticipated with fluttering arpeggios and Mayilyan’s elated vocality. Her third song, “Lullaby” delicately explored the love between mother and child with great affection from Mayilyan, ended with a beautiful diminish as she gestured placing a child in a cradle.
Her last piece was Aram Kachaturian’s “Drinking Song,” which brought her set to a powerful, energetic close.
Last of the evening’s artists was baritone Dashuai Chen, with three songs performed in Mandarin Chinese.
His first selection, “Three Wishes of the Rose” by Zi Huang, opened with wonderful richness, with Chen utilizing a tender delivery to great effect, able to set up vocal leap or poignantly break the silence between phrases.
Next was Yuanren Zhao’s “Teach Me How To Forget Him,” where Chen’s slowly rising melodic lines conveyed a sense of nostalgia and vulnerability, bringing it to a soft conclusion.
His final song, Guangnan Shi’s “Love for the Sea,” featured a lush, flowing accompaniment that Chen joined with a melancholic gravity. As the tempo and energy rose, the forte chords led to a heightened vocal entrance from Chen, culminating in a stunning, high B-flat conclusion that made for an electric finish to the concert.