Lorraine Hunt first came to the Moab Music Festival in 1997. She was fresh off her triumph at the Santa Fe Opera where she had premiered Peter Lieberson’s “Ashoka’s Dream”. She had also, she confided to me, fallen in love with the composer. This was an exciting time for Lorraine. Her career was path was on a meteoric rise, and she had met the love of her life. It was a fairly relaxed, neurosis free few weeks, and Lorraine delivered her finest work (which we all came to expect).
Here is the first of Brahms’ Two Songs Op. 91 for mezzo, viola and piano. It’s entitled “Gestillte Sehnsucht” (Quieted Longing). Yours truly is at the piano, and my wife Leslie Tomkins is the violist matching Lorraine’s artistry and phrasing like a musical soul sister. Lorraine was a violist too, and we had all grown up in the Bay Area, so it was a comfortable and deep collaboration. Lorraine later told us that this was the eighth time she had performed these songs that year, and this was her favorite. Ours too.
Lorraine’s next visit to the Moab Music Festival was in 1999. Peter Lieberson was with her, and they had become engaged. Gestillte Sehnsucht indeed.
The Song of the Day for the week of June 29th comes from NYFOS Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett:
As we roll into the summer Holiday weekend, I recall the many 4th of July performances I’ve conducted over the years. Gershwin, Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Tchaikovsky–great music from the usual suspects. But lately I’ve had a touch of melancholy this time of year. I realized that it is because this is the week Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died in 2006. Lorraine had many important NYFOS collborations with myself and Steve Blier over her short career, and she is deeply missed by the NYFOS family, and by music lovers everywhere. So I’ve decided to pay tribute to her artistry this entire week by sharing live performances she gave at the Moab Music Festival in 1997 and 1999.
Here is the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria”. A generation or two ago it was a very famous piece, acceptable in the parlor, church, or concert hall. Florence Foster Jenkins used it as her signature piece, murdering both intonation and the high notes. In Lorraine’s hands this is a piece of transcendent perfection. If this is religious music, I’m ready to be baptized.
The Bach is of course the C major Prelude from The Well Tempered Clavier (Book One), with a gorgeous descant provided by Gounod. I’ve transposed the piece down a whole step to the key of B-flat. The performance took place in a magical grotto on the Colorado River accessible only by boat. It was an all-Bach concert that also featured the cantata “Ich Habe Genug” and “Bist du bi mir”. Several music aficionados who were present among the 90 audience members still maintain that this was the peak musical experience of their lives. I can’t disagree. Lorraine left us much too early. Thank God we have some recorded memories of her gift. Tomorrow, we’ll be hearing some Brahms.
To usher in the weekend, Cole Porter’s “Dream Dancing” played by one of my idols, piano legend Bill Evans. He’s partnering Tony Bennett, the Helden-tenor of popular song. There are very few piano-and-voice jazz albums without bass and drums, so it’s especially meaningful (and rare) for me to hear Bill Evans play for Tony B. with no sidemen. This is how I play popular music 99.99999% of the time—I’m used to providing my own rhythm section, my own bass lines—and listening to Evans go commando (musically) is like having a piano lesson. He is so elegant in this tune, tossing off perfect voicings and the most gorgeous Ravel-ish harmonies, gourmet gelato à la Steinway.
The tune didn’t make it onto either of the two LPs that came out of these mid-1970s sessions, and in truth it has a couple of tiny glitches that may have consigned it to the archives. But Fantasy Recordings did include the song on the CD issue, and I fell in love with it. I never, ever play “Dream Dancing” just once. One night as we were making dinner, I was heading into replay #6 when Jim gently said, “Um, could we maybe hear another song?” Forthwith, the Lay’s Potato Chips of Cole Porter recordings—bet you can’t eat just one.
A minority report on the smash Broadway hit “An American in Paris,” which evoked mixed feelings when I saw last night. I was awash in pleasure and emotion for the first twenty-five minutes, literally sobbing to hear that luxurious Gershwin music and see the virtuoso dancing. But then the thread broke: there were too many songs that didn’t really fit the situation and seemed shoehorned in; also a lot of mediocre, just passable singing; plot strands put in place and not followed through. The show is about its dancing and its (mostly digital) scenery, and yes, both are staggering. But I am about words and music and voice and story and feeling, and I got really frustrated as the show progressed. There was something empty about it, and I had to resist looking at my watch. I also think I may have seen a not-too-great performance, somewhere between saggy and soggy.
I have to admit that Gershwin’s music exists for me in a kind of Platonic ideal, and while I love to hear it played by pianists or orchestras, I am rarely satisfied by vocal performances of his songs. Something crucial always seems to be missing. Looking for a Gershwin song this morning to fix the acid-heavy pH balance in my soul, I decided on Leontyne Price and William Warfield singing “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” The music of longing, the music of desire!
from Steven Blier: a tribute to Victor Torres.
Today, a singer who serendipitously dropped into my life from two directions. First, my downstairs neighbor gave me a CD she’d picked up in Buenos Aires—Argentine Songs sung by a guy named Victor Torres. She knew I was interested in that repertoire, but she just wasn’t into him, or the material, or something. I listened to the recording and had one of those electrifying musical awakenings. At first I couldn’t figure out if I liked Victor’s voice or not (I admit that my neighbor’s dismissal weighed on me), but after a while I couldn’t help noticing that I was playing the CD over and over again obsessively. That’s not “liking.” That’s “love.” Step two: about a year later, a colleague recommended that I have a coaching session with a young Latin American tenor he’d heard. I squeezed him into my schedule and had a very pleasant hour working with him–a sweet guy and a promising singer. As he was packing up his stuff, he mentioned that his teacher from Buenos Aires was going to be in town soon, would I perhaps like to meet him. “What’s his name?” “Victor Torres.” Thunderbolt!
And that is how I met Victor—first for lunch at Sushi-a-Go-Go (that’ll tell New Yorkers how long ago this was), and then at my place for lunch and music. For one blessed hour I got to accompany this uniquely gifted man, a superb musician with phrasing that reminds me at once of John Coltrane and the young Gérard Souzay. Victor gave me his blessings on the way I played Argentinean song. And then he asked if I’d play some Gershwin with him. He sang some standards and even sight-read—perfectly!—my favorite song, “Ask Me Again.” His Gershwin blended the suavity of Sinatra and the musicianship of Fischer-Dieskau—along with just a whiff of tango-master Carlos Gardel.
Victor doesn’t have a lot posted on YouTube, but here are three songs from that album. There are a few of his CDs on Spotify (but alas not the one I first heard, still my favorite). Victor, ¡regresa a Nueva York!
Joan Sutherland was my childhood passion. In junior high I used to go into classrooms and scribble “Joan is supreme” in the corner of the blackboard, probably some botched attempt to be transgressive. In the 1970s and 80s I cooled a bit on Sutherland’s singing, but when I hear those early recordings I realize I actually had pretty good taste when I was a young spud. She was thrilling. From her first “Don Giovanni” recording (1958) under the galvanizing baton of Carlo Maria Giulini (another idol of mine), here’s Donna Anna’s Act I aria, “Or sai chi l’onore,” with the recitative. Not only can you understand every word (even with her Australian accent peeking through), but there is an intensity and immediacy in her singing that was to get somewhat calcified in later years. Here she sounds like an impassioned, frightened young woman who might have been raped—amazing vocal acting from a singer people think of as cold and “technical.”
And a couple of bonus tracks, for the enthusiasts: an excerpt from a live 1960 Verdi Requiem with Giulini—again, that amazing fire and energy that I had so loved when I first heard her at age 11. She was a fireball when she worked with Giulini, no question (dig that open-chest G-natural before the start of the fugue):
And a rare outing in Puccini—“Vissi d’arte’ from “Tosca” from a 1968 Bell Telephone Hour broadcast which I remember watching with my parents on our black-and-white TV set. She wears a “have-you-no-gay-friends” dress, Tito Gobbi glowers in the background; Sutherland cranes her neck up as she always did when she sang, and then delivers a lesson in breath control that is pretty staggering. “Vissi d’arte” comes out as “Vossi d’arte”—Joan sang the vowels that she thought sounded most beautiful. Y’know…I’ll take it.
A prayer for our country, in the wake of last week’s horrific killings in Charleston: “Oh Glory,” sung by Shirley Verrett in the early years of her career. The pundits are busy spinning this story, some of them in the most appalling, self-serving ways. This is my counterpoint to all the chatter.
Shirley Verrett’s RCA recording (now available on CD) was taken from her recital at Carnegie Hall in 1965. It was my first exposure to what we then called Negro Spirituals. How I wished that the music I heard at Riverdale Temple sounded more like this. I might have become more observant. For aficionados, I enclose two performances—the Carnegie Hall/RCA one I heard as a teenager, and another from four years later that I like even better. What is soul? Well, this is what it sounds like.
(1969, with Warren Wilson)
(Carnegie Hall, RCA Records, with Charles Wadsworth)