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Rossini La gazza ladra • Teatro Nuovo • July 14 and 18, 2019
The orchestra playing in particular was revelatory: the band of original instruments was seated on the same level as the audience, creating both a more present sound and intimate rapport with the singers. In fact, the orchestra seemed to beat with a single heart, bobbing their heads in unison with the “primo violino” Jakob Lehmann and “maestro al cembalo” Rachelle Jonck. The two shared leadership duties in lieu of a conventional conductor, setting and maintaining crisp tempos while playing the violin and keyboard respectively.
- The Observer, James Jorden
The desired result was a deeper collaboration between all the musicians involved, in fact a fortunate blend between the warmer-then-usual instrumental sounds and the voices. On a few occasions, wind instrumentalists stood during their dialogues with the vocal soloists, so that the sound would come from the same level. When a singer needed – with typical bel canto freedom – to express a specific state of mind by slowing down or accelerating his output, the orchestra was always responding appropriately. There was no maestro dictating his way around.
- Bachtrack, Edward Sava-Segal
The players could thus watch and listen to each other rather than being glued to the conductor, and with the orchestra pit raised to audience level they could also see the singers on the stage. The result was an unusually flexible sense of pacing, with the orchestra playing with the same bel canto freedom as the singers. It was remarkably different from conventional performances of these operas, when the orchestra can sound like a background oompah band.
- The Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson
Fauré: 30 Mélodies • Steven Tharp, tenor, Rachelle Jonck, piano
The true beauty of a melody can be best judged when held up to the scrutiny of simplicity. That is, free of ornament and pageantry, does it deliver? Can those notes and rests pierce the spirit without help? University of Missouri Professor Steven Tharp, a seasoned performer, provides the latest link in a long chain of reminders that Gabriel Faure’s melodies are hardy in the face of time and changing tastes. On his new recording, “30 Melodies,” the tenor showcases the greatness of Faure’s lines, delivering art songs accompanied by pianist Rachelle Jonck. Tharp and Jonck move nimbly from melody to melody, but a critical mass emerges: Faure, who died in 1924, had an undeniable gift for touching others with his stirring compositions. The album opens with a setting of Victor Hugo’s “Rêve d’amour”; against Jonck’s lyric playing, Tharp establishes the richness and resonance of his instrument. There is a felt contrast between the dulcet “Lydia” and tragic “Chanson du pêcheur”; the former glides, the sweetness of Faure’s melody buoyed by thoughtful harmonies. The latter, the ballad of a grieving fisherman, is like the sea: darker, deeper, wilder. Billowy piano frames Armand Silvestre’s “Notre amour,” which Faure blessed with a fluid melody, underscoring the poet’s description of love. Another pair of Silvestre settings, “Chanson d’amour” and “Fleur Jetée,” shine. Tharp sings the former with sensitivity and expression; the latter is pointed and dramatic. “Nocturne” shows how Faure’s brilliance can fit in the space of a single word; melody and harmony paint the word for “mystery” with just that. “Au Cimetiere” is a portrait of aching. Elsewhere, two of several settings of Paul Verlaine’s verses excel: “La lune blanche” is wonderfully contoured; “N’est-ce pas” traces a glorious arc, showcasing richness in Tharp’s higher and lower registers. Throughout, it is clear that Tharp is feeling these songs, not merely reading them. He finds a consummate partner in Jonck; their dynamic is one of wonderful symmetry. She plays cascading runs with ease and wrings emotion out of a few simple chords. As talented as Tharp and Jonck are, they are ultimately servants of another, pointing us back to Faure.
- Columbia Tribune, Aarik Danielsen