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Holding that trembling note with drama

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun May 6th, 2018

Bethany Pietroniro and Eric Carey

Tenor Eric Carey performed his M. A. in Vocal Arts graduate recital at Bard’s László Bitó Building on Saturday evening. As a tenor, Carey sings within the poetic inscape of feeling that an art song requires. He has a way of building drama through voice dynamics, wherein song may suddenly burst forth with plosive bloom. Pianist Bethany Pietroniro was Eric’s principal collaborator.  

With recent success in a couple of operas, Carey has contracted for three appearances this summer at Tanglewood: singing cantatas by J.S. Bach under the baton of composer/conductor John Harbison; the role of the funeral director in a revival of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place; and as a soloist in Benjamin Britten’s Canticle V, The Death of Saint Narcissus. Last summer in Suzhou, China, he sang Gherardo in Puccini’s comic Gianni Schicchi, as well as performing in traditional Chinese operas for the whole summer.

On Saturday evening he performed in several languages: German, Spanish, French, Latin, and English, all with perfect accent. Eric opened with three poems to settings by Franz Schubert. Goethe’s “Der Musensohn” (“The sons of the muses”) recounts the story of a wandering poet through bucolic landscape as he hopes to discover love—one of Schubert’s more alluring songs that Carey made vivid, vulnerable, and powerful through his deep emotional delivery. This was followed by “Die Sterne” (“The Stars”) by Karl Ritter Von Leitner, which praised the glory of the empyrean during a charming moment of benevolent, intoxicating insomnia. Goethe’s night song of the wanderer bespoke a dynamic minimalism amid nature abraded by the realization of mortality, a lyric as comfortable and relevant in the 21st century as in the early 19th.

Robert Schumann’s setting of Benedikt von Eichendorff’s “Auf Einer Burg” (“In a Castle”) provided a proto-feminist complaint about a forced wedding under the gilded bride’s duress with fatalistic irony. Schubert’s haunting setting of Matthäus Von Collin’s rather bizarre Gothic song “Der Zwerg” (“The Dwarf”) followed, as it recounted the story of a dwarf strangling a queen with a most loving kiss, while Carey displayed the gruesome terror of his lower register.

I was quite taken by Joaquín Turina’s “Poema  en forma caniones,” which permitted the opportunity of displaying flamenco vocal ornamentation, something permitted in Spanish but not welcomed in English or German. Carey next sang six selections from Clairiè dans le ciel by Francis Jammes set by Lili Boulanger, Nadia Boulanger’s younger sister, an intense prodigy, who died so young at 24. The rather lengthy piano prelude was expertly played by Pietroniro who fingered with such rapid delicacy that I thought the prelude to overwhelm whatever lyric to follow. I was especially moved by the last stanza—a bouquet  of varied flowers and the trembling hope of love. A Biblical Latin text (1610) from the Song of Songs celebrated the work of the spring season to harp accompaniment by Bettina Tóth.

A suite of four songs in English followed: John Dowland’s “Come again, Sweet Love” and “Time Stands Still,” the title of the evening’s program, was accompanied by Alexander Bonus on harpsichord. (It is thought that Dowland’s charming compositions provided the tunes used in several of Shakespeare’s plays.) Marc Blitzstein’s “Stay in my arms” and Joni Mitchell’s “A case of you” closed out the performance on a Romantic high note, the latter with an informal melodic style during which Pietroniro ably captured the improvisational intimacy of Mitchell, while Carey displayed a more contemporary, jazzy liquidity in his voice.

A few of these songs will serve as the foundation of “Music in the Parlor,” a more informal and intimate recital by Carey and Pietroniro at Smithfield Church in the hills of Amenia this next Saturday at 4 pm. A reception and refreshments will supplement the recital, which is the inaugural event of small concerts held at the church due to a donation from the Bang family.