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Schubert’s Genius Live in New York

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Thu Jun 8th, 2017

Krista Bennion Feeney, Henry Kramer, David Cerutti, Myron Lutzke, John Feeney

The Orchestra of St. Luke’s has embarked on a new, annual series of spring concerts that will feature different composers each year. Franz Schubert, a most wise choice, kicked off the series at the Morgan Library this past Wednesday evening.  The concert was preceded by an interview with contemporary composer Steven Mackey. Conversation with OSL’s President James Roe centered upon the whimsical vagaries of working with music and lyrics, on how Schubert wrote for a popular audience and the difficulties of doing that today in a classical vein. Mackey said that he now works with a regular lyricist who gives him picture, plot, and mood which he uses to compose the music, and then the librettist provides lyrics, which he then adapts.

The concert began with Soprano Ying Fang (Ying being her surname), whom James Levine has promoted, singing four Schubert lieder: “In Twilight,” “Ganymede,” “Dry Flowers,” and “Serenade” (Ständchen). Ying Fang gathered confidence and force as she sang, until she climaxed with an outstanding performance of the last song where her clear, natural voice enraptured me and the audience. She sang with the deep feeling required of a Schubert soloist—that seamless melding with meaning, feeling, and music.

There is nothing more competitive than ascending the formidable ranks of Schubert lieder performance, yet if Ying Fang hones her German accent a trifle, perhaps she should cast her hat into those august ranks. The deep sincerity her voice is capable of carrying is extremely suitable to the more than 600 parlor songs of Schubert. She was accompanied on piano by young Henry Kramer, a Juilliard graduate and graduate from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where Ying Fang first began her vocal training. Kramer’s rhythm and execution was flawless in its support of Ying Fang. They took two bows.

Elizabeth Mann on flute accompanied Kramer on “Introduction and Variations on ‘Dry Flowers’.” One-quarter through the piece Mann caught fire and became eloquent, yet labored under some stress in the last quarter of this lengthy arc.

Ying Fang reappeared to sing Schubert’s famous “Trout,” a work where the wonderful music overshadows its cute lyrics. Schubert took elements from this song to recycle in “Piano Quintet in A major,” Op. 114, perhaps the most charming composition in the classical repertoire, and certainly Schubert’s most popular work. This is also a showcase opportunity for first violin. Krista Bennion Feeney led with articulate modulation with forceful energy with solid support from her husband John Feeney on bass, David Cerutti on viola, and Myron Lutzke’s cello that lent warm glow. Here Henry Kramer was more fluid, confident, and supple as he trilled his stream-evoking keys that radiated blissful mountain-brook  joy. The genial and thrilling lyricism of this composition remains happily infectious and contagious.

This delightful program will be repeated at the Morgan Library on Friday evening and at the Brooklyn Museum on Sunday afternoon.

Subsequent performances at these same two locales in this Schubert series will include Schubert’s” Cello Quintet” and a couple of unfinished chamber works (which pieces usually not performed); Schubert’s exquisite “Octet” paired with a reading of a new essay on Schubert by his greatest fan at the New Yorker magazine, Adam Gopnik, with Q & A afterwards. For more information go online at OSLmusic.org.