Carnegie Hall 2018-19 Review: Paul Appleby and “Songs of Imagined Love”

By Logan Martell

On Friday, October 26, tenor Paul Appleby was joined by pianist Natalia Katyukova for an evening of lieder and songs from Benjamin Britten, George Frederic Handel, Franz Schubert, and more. This night also saw the world premiere of “Songs of Imagined Love,” a new cycle from composer Hannah Lash, which drew inspiration from the works of Schubert. While most of the evening carried a theme of “the end of life” as described by Appleby, there were no shortage of songs that were unafraid to delve into the dark reaches of the heart in search of beauty of meaning.

Beginning with Britten 

First from Britten’s “Winter Words” was “At Day-Close in November.” This piece lists observations of nature common to daily life, but tinged with a cautious appreciation due to the theme of life and death, and bolstered by the dissonant, ambivalent chords in the accompaniment. The second piece “Midnight on the Great Western (or The Journeying Boy,)” employed a driving rhythm of duplets to conjure up the feeling of a locomotive. Here, Appleby made full use of the strophic format of the text; each time he came back to the word “journeying” he delivered an extended series of ornamentation that emphasized the perceived length of the boy’s journey. While the round nature of the music and the text give the impression that this piece could go on forever if it so chose, alternating between observation and introspection, the return of the duplets soon transitioned into the conclusion, bringing the piece to an end.

Third from this cycle was “Wagtail and Baby (a Satire.)” The concerned tones in Appleby’s voice took on a more conversational hue; he sang of a bird by a ford that drank without fear of any animal, but the presence of a man sends it flying instantly. At that moment the accompaniment and Appleby took on a more dire and staccato phrasing; this sense of fear supported the message of man being the most fearsome creature. The fourth piece, “The Little Old Table,” featured a creeping melody on the piano which employed a crossed-hands technique. The text contemplates the past history experienced by the creaking piece of furniture, which Appleby outlined using a soft but resonant outpouring from the higher reaches of his voice.

“Songs of Imagined Love”

Finishing up the first half of the recital was the world premiere of Hannah Lash’s song cycle “Songs of Imagined Love.” While Lash could not attend due to an illness in her family, her note within the program is as follows: “’Songs of Imagined Love’ sets texts I wrote inspired by some of the poems of Ludwig Rellstab, which Schubert sets in his ‘Schwangesang.’ I found inspiration in Schubert’s eloquent reading and interpretation of text through his music. In setting my own texts, I was interested in approaching the intersection of music and language as an equal-partnering dance between the two. The texts are often abstract, suggesting rather than narrating. I play with musical clarity by constantly shifting the harmonic meaning within my music, creating a network of relationships from which I can draw and through which I can draw multiple pathways.”

First from the cycle was the piece “Messenger.” The introduction carried a downward falling melody, and chords that stopped and resumed like an idea trying to rephrase itself. The text itself detailed a man pleading with a stream to convey his feelings to his lover, and Appleby bestowed the text with an appropriately tender affection. The second piece, merely titled “Song” carried an inner longing that belied the simpler text; here Appleby utilized a beckoning quality for phrases such as “If you hear my silent yearning will you come to me?”

The third piece, “After Waking,” began with a frantic rhythm in the accompaniment. The text outlines a frustrated narrator; the bleakness of city life soils his heart, which he likens to dirtied snow fallen the day before. Appleby’s declamatory tones lent a fire that kept it from feeling pessimistic. The final piece, titled “Goodbye,” was a farewell both poignant and rueful, with phrases such as “I am leaving you, will brush the leaves over my footprints to keep them warm.” This piece made for a bittersweet end to the first half, with Appleby tapering into silence, singing “I bow my head, not wanting to taste my tears…”

Cycling Through

Making for a livelier return from the intermissions, Appleby and Katyukova performed “Thus, when the sun from’s wat’ry bed,” from Handel’s “Samson.” The statelier, Baroque feeling gave much energy to the room, only to then be filled by the delicate power of Appleby’s tenor navigating through the melismatic setting of the text. While the next piece, “The Sleeper,” by George Crumb, reverted back to the gloomier tone of the first half of the recital, it did so in a number of interesting ways. The most notable being that Katyukova reached inside of the piano to pluck at the strings, to create a dissonant ramble of muffled notes, gritty rolls, and even the faint cry of overtones. Appleby treated Poe’s text with a hushed eeriness that supported the simple but effective rhymes “At midnight, in the month of June, I stand beneath the mystic moon…” and utilizing a lingering vibrato on “an  opiate vapor, dewy, dim, exhales from out her golden rim.”

Last of the cycles for the evening was Franz Schubert’s “Schwanengesang.” Highlights among the eight selections included “Resting Place,” with a tumultuous rhythm flowing against the grieved immobility described by the narrator; and “Farewell,” which carried a constant bounce that played well with Appleby’s patter-like delivery. All the texts of this cycle are translated into English on the program by Appleby himself, and they often painted fascinating images, such as in “Warriors Foreboding,” that details “here, where the gloomy glows of flames, ah, only on weapons play, here the breast feels all alone, and melancholy tears well up.” This stanza was followed by an attack of emotion like a breaking heart before it softened to conclude the piece.

Not content to end things on a dreary note, the encore numbers Appleby and Katyukova performed brought the evening to a spirited finale. First was the classic Irish song, “Believe me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms,” which Appleby devoted to the women in his life, namely his wife, mother, and stepmother. The second encore Frank Bridge’s “Love Went-A-Riding,” featured a galloping rhythm in the accompaniment and a flowing melody in the piano’s upper register. Above all this Appleby soared in in the closing phrases “No! For the horse I ride, for the horse I ride has wings!”



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